Newly resigned Alabama governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, might be surprised to be leaving office in disgrace and with a criminal record, but the state’s residents have seen this before — many times over. After all, three of the state’s past six governors have been found guilty of various crimes. Only one was eventually pardoned.
Let’s begin with Harold Guy Hunt, a Baptist preacher, who served from 1987 to 1993. He was the first Alabama governor removed from office following a criminal conviction.
Hunt had made a habit of using state airplanes to fly to preaching gigs, where he would accept financial “love offerings,” according to Auburn University’s Encyclopedia of Alabama. When controversy around these trips swelled, Hunt agreed to stop taking them.
But it was too late. The Alabama Ethics Commission recommended the attorney general investigate Hunt. Eventually, the governor was indicted on 13 felony counts.
While most charges were dropped, one stuck: Hunt had taken a tax-exempt $200,000 from his 1987 inaugural fund to purchase a riding lawn mower, a cow and a marble shower for his home, among other things.
In April 1993, Hunt was convicted on a felony charge of violating a state ethics law and removed from office, The Washington Post reported at the time. He was sentenced to five years probation, given 1,000 hours of community service and ordered to repay the money along with court costs.
With four months left to his sentence, Hunt sought early release from his probation. Instead of granting his wish, a judge added five years to his sentence and suggested he get a new job to help repay the more than $200,000 he owed the state. Hunt had been paying about $100 a month, The Post reported at the time.
Later that year, though, his luck finally changed — he received a full pardon from the state parole board. The damage, though, was done. He had left the governorship disgraced, and he never won another political race, despite several attempts.
The next governor to run afoul of the law was Don Siegelman, who served from 1999 to 2003.
Siegelman had attended Georgetown Law School, spent time studying at Oxford and always had his eyes set on the governorship. Once, as recounted in “Of Goats & Governors,” he met former Alabama governor James “Big Jim” Folsom (D) and asked for campaign advice.
“Well,” Folsom began. “You need to change your name. Ain’t nobody in Opp going to vote for some boy named Siegelman. First of all you can’t say it. Secondly, it don’t sound like a good regular Alabama Baptist or Methodist name. And you better tell folks you went to school at Oxford High School in Calhoun County and not some place in England. And thirdly, don’t you know you can’t steal any money in that job?”
Perhaps Big Jim should have mentioned bribery.
After leaving office, Siegelman was convicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud for actions that took place during his term as governor, The Post reported. Among other actions, he traded political favors for money and motorcycles. In August 2012, he was sentenced to 78 months in prison.
His time in prison was even more storied than his time as governor. As The Post reported, he and his son claimed he was sent to solitary confinement on more than one occasion for conducting unauthorized interviews from prison. Last year, he requested clemency from President Barack Obama, only to be denied, AL.com reported.
But, of course, George Wallace became Alabama’s most infamous governor, most notably for fighting segregation. In one speech, he proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” He also once stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to block black students from entering. Wallace served as governor for parts of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Bentley’s finishing blow came Monday, when he resigned for using public resources to have and hide an affair with a former top aide. Dubbed the “Luv Guv,” he was caught after tapes emerged featuring him saying things like, “Baby, let me know what I am going to do when I start locking the door. If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Monday.
Kay Ivey, who was then sworn in as the new governor, inherited a state that is likely casting a suspicious eye on its leaders.
“Today is both a dark day in Alabama, but yet also it’s one of opportunity,” the 72-year-old Republican said in a brief speech. “I ask for your help and patience as we together steady the Ship of State and improve Alabama’s image.”
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