Alabama party lines blurred 20 years ago
By By Steve Flowers
As late as forty years ago Alabama was still a no party state. Everybody ran as a Democrat out of tradition and convenience. Even though we started voting Republican for President in 1964 it was twenty-two years later when we elected our first Republican Governor and that was a fluke.
The Legislature is still a bastion of Democratic control. Many of these Democrats have been members of the State House and Senate for decades and are relics of the past when almost all members of the Legislature were Democrats. They may have been considered conservative Democrats and would choose to not endorse or be involved with Democratic Party politics. They especially would run from and distance themselves from the national Democratic Party. They would hide when the Democratic Presidential candidates, like McGovern, Kennedy, and Mondale, would show up.
Since there were very few Republican legislators as late of the mid 1980s there was no partisan struggle. The few Republicans would ally with the conservative Democrats on the pro business side and their adversaries would be fellow Democrats who were more liberal and would side with unions and trial lawyers.
Even though the Alabama State House is not the scene of zenith partisan acrimony that exists in Washington today, we have gotten to the point where we are a true two party state in our Legislative arena. Partisanship has arrived.
In the Senate, Republicans still have only ten seats to the Democrats twenty-five. However, there still exists a coalition mentality with six or seven Democrats siding with the Republicans thus leaving the real Democrats with a slim majority for organizational purposes. The Democratic majority has used this party hold to their advantage. They control the purse strings of state government and have rendered Republican Bob Riley irrelevant in the budget process. Along with excluding the Governor from any power inherent in budgeting state funds, they have also thwarted his Legislative agenda in true partisan fashion
Nevertheless in the role that Riley has been given, that of administrator of state government, he has done a masterful job. He assembled the most blue ribbon cabinet ever enticed to join an administration. His cabinet, made up of many of the most successful businessmen in Alabama, quickly used their management skills and acumen and took the reigns of their departments and made them slim and efficient. Late last year it was quietly reported that Alabama state agencies had 928 fewer employees than they had three years earlier. That represents a 25% decrease since Bob Riley took office in January 2003.
Riley has made state government unquestionably leaner. Opponents will argue that Alabamians are not getting adequate services due to the Riley reductions. However, the vast majority of voters in Alabama will concur with and endorse Thomas Jefferson's philosophy of "a wise and frugal government." Riley can and should make his administrative skills a hallmark campaign issue.
Undoubtedly many Alabamians already perceive that Riley is a good administrator. His approval ratings are sky high. His polling numbers for reelection are stratospheric, especially with there being just over two months until Election Day. His lead over challenger Lucy Baxley is large and many experts predict insurmountable.
In an effort to bolster her chance against a popular incumbent Governor who is riding the crest of a booming state economy she has adjusted her staff for the twelve week sprint to November. She has turned to Doc Sweitzer for her campaign ads. He is based out of Philadelphia. Baxley has also brought in John Robinson as campaign director and Jeff Bridges as her communications director. Robinson was a deputy campaign manager for John Edwards' Democratic Presidential campaign in 2004.
Riley will be tough to beat in November. In large part due to the fact that he has done a pretty good job as Governor.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us <http://www.steveflowers.us/>