Melton calls for investigation of Bentley

Published 7:55 pm Friday, March 25, 2016

Several Democratic leaders, including Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, are calling for a thorough investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley.

Melton, Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, co-signed a letter sent to media outlets Friday morning asking for a thorough investigation of the governor by attorney general Luther Strange’s office. The letter asked that the attorney general looks into whether Bentley asked law enforcement to lie about a criminal investigation and if the governor misused his office or public funds.

Ford has also tweeted that Bentley should step down entirely. He’s one of many that have been outspoken about the governor, following a week that saw Bentley admit to making inappropriate remarks to his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

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Melton didn’t go quite that far, but he did question whether Bentley could still effectively lead a state with so many prevalent issues on the horizon. Melton said Bentley should consider stepping down.

“His personal life is his personal life, but I think given what is going on … I think it would be good for the state, his family and his own well-being if he considered that option because it is a great embarrassment for our state,” Melton said.

Bentley said Thursday that he would not resign, despite the controversy surrounding him. Last year, he and his wife Diane divorced after 50 years of marriage and rumors of an affair quickly followed.

Those rumors gained traction Tuesday in the aftermath of Bentley’s decision to fire law enforcement secretary Spencer Collier. On the same day as his firing, Collier said publicly he knew of sexually explicit text messages and audio recordings between Bentley and Mason.

Collier said Bentley asked him to lie to the attorney general’s office about why he would not provide a sworn statement in an investigation related to the corruption case of House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Bentley said he fired Collier after the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency found possible misuse of state funding.

In the hours that followed Collier’s firing, an audio tape was released of an alleged Bentley phone conversation with Mason. The call was reportedly recorded by a member of the Bentley family to determine whether or the governor was having an affair.

Bentley spoke about those recordings Thursday, but denied any kind of sexual relationship.

Melton said his concern is whether any state laws were violated.

“We should allow the AG office to do its job instead of focusing on just the relationship itself,” said Melton, who serves as the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Melton said with the current distractions, it’s “impossible for the governor to be effective” given the allegations in front of him. Melton said the state has so many other issues — rural hospitals that are closing, Medicaid funding and infrastructure problems — and he’s ready to put the focus back where it belongs.

“As the face of this state, it is a great embarrassment that we are now making national news because of his private life,” Melton said. “I think for the best of the state, I don’t think it’s wise for the governor to have a position where he just can stay there and be ineffective. I think sometimes leadership means that we have to make tough decisions and those decisions mean sometimes getting out of the way of progress.”