Legislative session lackluster, uneventful

Published 2:13 am Thursday, May 31, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
As the first regular legislative session of the quadrennium winds down, it appears that it will be a somewhat lackluster and uneventful three month session. The most noteworthy issues occurred the first three weeks. That is no accident. Most controversial issues are tackled at the beginning of each term so that voters will forget and forgive with three years of water under the bridge.
This theory applies to the most controversial vote of the session, the infamous pay raise vote. Legislators were hopeful that their vote to increase their own pay by 62 percent would be quickly swept under the rug by a voice vote. However, Gov. Riley called their hand and vetoed the resolution. Therefore, it had to go back to both chambers and it became incumbent on legislators to invoke a three fifths vote to override the Governor and furthermore it had to be a recorded vote.
The legislature bravely, and some would say brazenly, voted to override Riley's veto. It took 63 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate to supersede Riley's veto and that is about how the vote came down. Most of the yea votes came from Democratic legislators with a few brave Republicans joining them. There are about 20 of the 63 Democrats in the House and about six in the Senate who might be vulnerable on the vote in the 2010 election.
Most legislators and in fact most editorialists believe that voters will forget the issue by 2010. That is probably true. However, those 20 House members and 6 Senators are in pivotal swing districts. You can bet that juicy campaign ads are being designed already for those incumbent legislators. A savvy challenger could mount a good campaign on that one issue if they had adequate money and a smart campaign guru that would keep it simple and not deviate from the message. Remember James Carville's admonishment to Bill Clinton in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid." The theme for 2010 could well be, "It's the 62 percent pay raise, stupid." Their votes may also be an early indication that they do not plan to run for reelection.
Most Capitol Hill observers expected a complete shut down of the Senate during the session. You have a quasi-shutdown. After the organizational battle in January lines were drawn in the sand and the losers had vowed nothing would pass. The minority side is compromised of the 12 Republicans along with 5 renegade Democrats.
The most ardent loser was Sen. Jimmy Holley. I have watched Holley operate for close the three decades. I sat by him for 8 years. He is a tough, knowledgeable, tenacious and able legislator. His threat is not to be taken lightly. However, practicality has a way of subduing vengeance. As fate would have it a tornado destroyed Enterprise High School in Holley's district. He immediately needed to get some help from his enemies.
I watched Holley astutely get Elba an entire new school system when it was devastated by flooding in the 1990's. He came with the same approach this year. He asked for $79 million. He got $32 million, which is more than enough to replace the ravaged Coffee County school facilities. This lesson in humility has made the minority walk less vindictively. They have gingerly slowed things down. They do not want to throw down the gauntlet entirely. They might actually need to get something done for their districts.
It appears that the PAC to PAC campaign bill is following the same charade scenario as it has in previous years. It is quickly passed out of the House early and then dies a quiet death languishing in a Senate committee. Even the House passed bill was watered down.
The legislature is determined to make us a player in the presidential primaries next year. A bill was passed last year to move us to Feb. 5. However, it was discovered that it was flawed because February 5th is Mardi Gras day in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. The new legislation will have the primaries for 65 counties on Tuesday, Feb. 5, but sets up a complicated procedure allowing voters in Baldwin and Mobile counties to go vote almost a week early on Jan. 30, a Wednesday. Their votes will be counted that night and results sealed until the night of the primary. Both the Democratic and Republican primaries should be interesting nationwide and in Alabama.
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.

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