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A spirit that is not afraid

Kay Ivey, an Auburn alumna, sworn in as Alabama governor

MONTGOMERY — Alabama has a new governor, and she's an Auburn alumna.

Gov. Robert Bentley resigned Monday evening following a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General's Office in which the governor admitted his guilt to two misdemeanor campaign finance and economic statement of interest disclosure violations. He is not expected to serve any jail time.

"I love the people of this state," Bentley said in his resignation announcement. "I love this office."

With Bentley’s resignation, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, an Auburn alumna, ascended to the governor's office this evening at about 6 p.m. with a public swearing-in ceremony in the Old House Chambers at the Alabama State Capitol.

"The Ivey Administration will be open, it will be transparent and it will be honest," Ivey said.

The resignation and plea bargain follow a week of fallout over Bentley's relationship and alleged affair with a former top staffer, Rebekah Mason, and whether he used state resources to cover it up or protect his image. Bentley was facing possible impeachment by the Alabama House of Representatives.

In the Montgomery County District Court, Bentley was sentenced to serve 12 months unsupervised probation and was fined more than $7,000. He has forfeited any rights to run for any future public office and has voided any of his retirement benefits from the state. He will also serve 100 hours of community service using his skills as a doctor.

"The time has come for me to look at new ways to serve the good people of our great state," Bentley said. "I have decided it's time for me to step down as Alabama's governor. I leave this office that I have held, that I have respected, that I have loved for seven years to focus on other, and possibly more effective, areas of service."

Bentley was facing possible impeachment and two criminal investigations up until Sunday morning, when Bentley was rumored to have made a deal with the Attorney General's Office Special Prosecutions Division to plead guilty to some charges in exchange for no jail time. The deal was far less than the four felony charges Bentley could have faced if the AGO had taken up Ethics Commission charges voted on last week.

The morning started with impeachment hearings in the House, which were abruptly shut down at about 2 p.m. when Bentley was reported to have made a final plea agreement. By about 4:15 p.m., Bentley had been booked at the Montgomery County Jail.

A hearing began at about 5 p.m. during which Montgomery County District Judge Troy Massey accepted Bentley's guilty plea.

The Alabama Ethics Commission, a state body that exists to make recommendations on criminal charges related to Alabama's state ethics laws, found probable cause on four charges against Bentley last week, choosing to refer each of the charges to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office for further consideration and possible prosecution.

On Monday morning, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey referred the charges from the Ethics Commission on to the Attorney General's Office, allowing the AGO to reduce the charges and make the plea deal with Bentley. 

The original charges referred by the Ethics Commission were all Class B felonies, for which Bentley could have faced up to 20 years in prison per charges and up to $30,000 in fines per charge.

All of the top officials in the Republican-dominated state government had called on Bentley to resign by Sunday night. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee had all urged Bentley to step down.

“I'm grateful that Governor Bentley has seen the writing on the wall and made what must have been a difficult decision," McCutcheon said. "When I met with him on Friday, I told him I would be praying for him. I will continue praying for him as he adjusts to the next chapter in his life and reflects upon the legacy he leaves behind."

Bentley's ouster marks a climax of a year of political turmoil in Alabama. Last year, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was found guilty of 12 felony ethics violations and was removed from office. Only a few months later, Chief Justice Roy Moore, the head of Alabama's Supreme Court, was forcibly suspended from office after being found guilty of violating the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.

That marks a full turnover in the top three positions in the Alabama government.

Ivey has served in state government in one form or another since 1979.

In 2002, Ivey ran as a Republican for state treasurer. She was elected and served in former Gov. Bob Riley's cabinet from 2003 to January 2011. In 2010, Ivey initially planned to run against Bentley, Rep. Bradley Byrne and Chief Justice Roy Moore, among others, in the Republican primary for governor, but she then decided early in the primary to run for lieutenant governor instead.

Ivey went on to defeat former governor and Democratic incumbent Jim Folsom Jr. in a statewide Republican sweep. Along with Bentley, Ivey was re-elected in 2014 for a second term. As lieutenant governor, Ivey presided over the Alabama State Senate.

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