The Way Forward in Post-Bentley Alabama

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Brynn Anderson, AP

Alabama is still absorbing yesterday’s historic news, the resignation of Gov. Robert Bentley after he became embroiled in scandal amid allegations he used state resources and intimidation to cover up an affair. But some state leaders are already looking ahead.

Republican state Rep. Jack Williams defended Bentley for a long time until, Williams says, “things really spiraled downhill. I felt like the way the governor handled things was presumptuous: ‘Hey, I’ve asked for forgiveness, now it’s on you to forgive me. And if you don’t, you’re the one that’s wrong.’ And my faith teaches me that forgiveness is a gift. And it’s given. It’s not taken.”

Bentley was booked into the Montgomery County Jail Monday afternoon and pled guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance charges. Even so, Williams was optimistic about the big picture, especially when it comes to economics.

“We live in a broken world,” he says. “And we’ve got folks running around here screaming, ‘This is going to kill us in economic development.’ Well, in the last 10 or 12 years, New Jersey and New York have gone through Governors resigning over similar scandals. Last time I was in New Jersey or New York, neither of those were withered up and dying.”

He says the whole affair has been a distraction that’ll soon fade.

And when it comes to state politics, Natalie Davis of Birmingham-Southern College doesn’t expect the Bentley ordeal to weaken the Republic Party’s hold on power:

“I think it’s going to take a while for the Republican Party to really get beat up, because there has to be a Democratic Party to do it. And right now, there isn’t one.”

On issues facing the state – prisons, health care, a lottery, budgets – Davis says there’s no telling where new Gov. Kay Ivey will stand. Part of that is because she’d been Lieutenant Governor.

“The role of the Lieutenant Governor is not to take sides,” says Davis. “You may be starting over. That stuff can either just fall by the wayside or continue.”

Davis and Williams say Ivey’s decades of political experience will help her in the Governor’s office. But Bentley had political experience too. He’d been a lawmaker who ironically, says Williams, gradually lost touch with lawmakers. So Williams hopes Ivey will “surround [herself] with good people, and work with the legislature.”

He adds, “The system works, because there was an issue that arose, and the issue is being dealt with.”

He and other lawmakers say they hope the storm has blown over so they can get back to business.