As First Lady, Dianne Bentley made it her mission to strengthen Alabama’s domestic violence laws and provide more services for victims.
Behind the scenes, however, Dianne Bentley faced her own private battles with her husband, then-governor Robert Bentley, and his apparent lack of support for her cause.
Documents provided to the attorneys investigating Bentley’s impeachment contain allegations the governor made disparaging remarks regarding the First Lady’s cause and that she herself felt she was a victim of emotional and mental abuse. The documents were released just days before Robert Bentley resigned as part of plea deal involving ethics and campaign finance violations stemming from his romantic relationship with former adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Black and blue
Heather Hannah, an assistant to Mrs. Bentley, recounted an exchange between the Bentley that occurred in August 2014.
“…October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the governor just was really ugly to Mrs. Bentley about it. And I believe one of his quotes was…oh, ironic domestic violence is purple because that’s how you beat a woman black and blue, or something really terrible like that.
“Mrs. Bentley told him she felt like she was being a victim of, you know, domestic violence mentally and verbally. And he just laughed her off and said, you know, that’s just your project.”
In another exchange recounted by Hannah:
“Mrs. Bentley was like what are you going to do…if you don’t stop this affair and I leave, what are you doing to do? And he was like ‘nobody cares about the First Lady. Nobody – you’re not that important.'”
Other Bentley staffers reported similar incidents. Wendell Lewis, Robert Bentley’s one-time security detail, wrote in his day planner Mrs. Bentley “seemed on edge.”
“Mrs. B told me…that she is on the verge of a break down. She said she wakes up every morning with an upset stomach,” Lewis wrote. “Mrs. B and I talked about the governor treating her badly because she has low self-esteem and knows that she would not leave. She also said he emotionally and mentally abuses her and she is so embarrassed because that is her platform as First Lady.”
During her time as First Lady, Bentley visited all domestic violence centers in the state and, spearheaded the drive to collect more than 15,000 cell phones as part of Verizon’s HopeLine projects that assists victims of abuse. She also spearheaded the passage of Domestic Violence Prevention Legislation named in her honor.
Dianne Bentley filed for divorce from her husband of 50 years in August of 2015, leading to questions about the governor’s relationship with Mason and, eventually, an impeachment investigation and his resignation. Documents – including romantic text messages Mason and Robert Bentley sent back and forth – were turned over to investigators by Dianne Bentley.
Former Gov. Bentley has denied claims he misused state resources and has not addressed specific allegations brought up in the course of the investigation.
Dianne Bentley has also maintained her silence, declining to speak on her ex-husband’s resignation. In her last public statement, made in late 2015, Mrs. Bentley said she appreciated the support and prayers of the people of Alabama.
“I like to say that I once was first lady of Alabama and I’m not first anymore, but I’m still a lady, and I still want to represent the state of Alabama as a lady,” Mrs. Bentley said.