When he introduces himself, people ask Bentley if he’s kidding. When he presents his driver’s license, people look twice. And when he’s traveling, he gets an earful of what people think about Alabama’s immigration law.
Usually, he agrees with them.
“This law isn’t helping our reputation one bit,” he said. “And that’s a shame, when you consider how much work we’ve all done to improve our reputation.”
James Robert Bentley, a Blount County lawyer, is not related to Alabama Gov. Robert Julian Bentley.
But on paper, they’re almost the same person. One does business as J. Robert. The other is known as Robert J.
In person, they couldn’t be more different.
Gov. Robert Bentley was a Tuscaloosa legislator and dermatologist before 2010, when he rode to electoral victory on a conservative surge that gave Republicans control of every branch of government. As a candidate, he championed tort reform and smaller government. As governor, he signed into law the nation’s toughest anti-illegal-immigration bill, one that has placed Alabama at the center of nationwide controversy.
J. Robert Bentley — Bob, to his friends — practices law in Oneonta. Many of the people he represents are indigent, their defense paid for by the state. A number of his clients are Hispanic. A Democrat and self-described “flaming liberal,” Bob Bentley thinks the immigration law is one of the worst things to happen to the state in years.
“On some level, a border is just an arbitrary geographical line,” he said. “For administrative purposes, it makes sense to control and limit who crosses that line, but when you start using it to justify violence and deprivation and cruelty, well, that’s just wrong.”
Bob Bentley says he’s been having a load of fun since his namesake became governor.
Traffic on his blog, “Bob Bentley… one day at a time,” has been up, and he said many of his readers come to the site after doing Google searches on the other guy.
“I bet they’re pretty surprised at the Bentley they’re getting,” he said. “I do try to make it clear that we’re not the same person.”
Indeed, he doesn’t hide his own political views. Many of Bob Bentley’s blog posts are often about trivia; a recent post is about 1960s Birmingham TV personality Cousin Cliff. But the blogger has been known to sound off on the immigration law, the foibles of GOP presidential candidates and other political topics.
Bob Bentley hasn’t been the only one having fun since the inauguration. He’s taken his share of jokes about seeing the light and going Republican. One of his buddies called him recently, pretending to be California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and offering to send a gift.
A University of Alabama graduate, Bob Bentley noted that he’d gladly accept a gift from the governor of Louisiana if the Tide wins the BCS championship.
The Tuscaloosa connection is one thing Bob Bentley and Robert Bentley have in common. Bob Bentley said he has met the governor just once, back during his college days.
“He took a mole off my chest while I was a student at the University of Alabama,” he said. “He seems like a nice man.”
During his Tuscaloosa days, Bob Bentley often got mail addressed to the other Bentley. He assumes the Tuscaloosa dermatologist got mail addressed to him as well.
“I was young, and none of my mail was really important,” he said with a chuckle. “I hope Dr. Bentley’s mail wasn’t important, either, because I don’t think I ever sent any of it to him.”
Religious faith is another theme both men share in common. Gov. Bentley, a Baptist, raised a minor stir on his first day in office when he told a crowd at Dexter Avenue/King Memorial Baptist Church that they were his “brothers and sisters” — and said that non-Christians weren’t his brothers and sisters. He apologized the next day, saying he would be the governor for everyone, not just Christians.
Bob Bentley regularly attends a Methodist church in Blount County. He said his Christian faith helped stir his opposition to the immigration law.
“It’s faith-based,” he said. “A lot of my liberality comes from the way Jesus has been revealed to me. He taught that people’s worth is not based on where they come from.”
Bob Bentley said it’s odd that two decent, Christian people could arrive at such divergent political opinions.
“It’s a strange situation, like Superman and Bizarro,” Bob Bentley said.
Bizarro is a comic-book supervillain, a mirror-image of Superman from a world where everything is done backwards.
So which Bentley is the Man of Steel, and which Bentley is the supervillain?
“I have no idea,” Bob Bentley said. “But in Alabama, at least, I’m in the minority. Here, I’m Bizarro.”