Mid-year review of Alabama happenings

Published 4:23 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
As we approach mid-year 2007 allow me to offer to you a glimpse of events and happenings in Alabama politics in potpourri fashion.
A lot has happened, the continuing unraveling of the Jr. College System corruption, the standoff in the Alabama Senate, the Presidential candidates' forays into the State. However, the biggest story would have to be a positive one. Our landing the German steel plant, ThyssenKrupp, to the Mobile area is the biggest and best news.
The announcement was made on May 11th that Alabama was selected to be the location for ThyssenKrupp's state-of-the-art steel processing facility. It will be a $3.7 billion investment which will provide 29,000 construction jobs and 2,700 permanent jobs when it begins operating in 2010. Much like Mercedes, these factory jobs will pay very well.
After considering 67 locations in 20 states, the company narrowed their decision to Alabama and Louisiana and we won. We were victorious in large part thanks to our Gov. Bob Riley. He worked diligently for over a year. His hands-on, day and night, personal wooing of the steel giant had to impress the top brass of the German company.
Riley put partisanship aside and involved Democrats Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom and Speaker of the House Seth Hammett. They all traveled together to Germany. Riley had the two presiding officers on board for passage of vital incentive legislation needed to lure the plant. He wisely called a week long special session prior to the regular session to pass the necessary legislation.
The special session illustrated how important the package was and allowed legislators to focus only on that issue. The Governor even enlisted the assistance of First Lady Patsy Riley. On a trip to Alabama the Germans were invited to the Governor's mansion to dine with the Governor. The First Lady offered them one of her favorite dishes, strawberry crepes, which she personally prepared. This kind of personal involvement, augmented by the incentive package, is one of the reasons for our success. Riley was so personally involved that they made the announcement call to him in the wee hours of the morning instead of to the Alabama Development Office Chief Neal Wade. Gov. Riley has done a good job as Governor, but this coup will be a hallmark of his administration.
Our winning the mammoth ThyssenKrupp deal culminates 15 years of success attracting foreign companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Airbus, and Hyundai. It has made us the envy of the nation as far as industrial recruitment. It has been the impetus for a booming state economy, has given us a fresh face around the world, and is changing our image worldwide as a backward and racist state.
Further enhancing that progress was the legislative resolution apologizing for slavery which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. Many Republicans voted against it but Gov. Riley signed it saying he hoped the resolution would help send a message that race relations in Alabama had improved. The resolution has no real significance. It has language that forbids it to open the door for monetary reparations. It is only a symbolic gesture.
Even though the legislative session was unproductive, due to the war in the Senate, history may reveal it to be successful. Some may say that the least legislation enacted is the best result. In that regard, the minority of Republican Senators can be proud. However, they were left completely out of the budget process which produced the largest education budget in history. The majority also got their way by giving themselves a slice of the discretionary piece of the bond issue pie. Most of the $1 billion plus bond issue is earmarked but there is still 15% that will be doled out politically.
The legislature fixed the flaw in our move to an early presidential primary. Our preference primary will be February 5th next year but allows residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties to vote almost a week early to avoid a conflict with the Mardi Gras holiday of Fat Tuesday. February 5 will be a big day next year. The presidential primary, Fat Tuesday, and the opening day of the 2008 Legislative Session where Gov. Riley makes his State of the State address.
Lucy Baxley is recovering from a massive stroke she had Thanksgiving Day which left her left leg and arm impaired. She is undergoing rigorous physical therapy but she is upbeat and smiling.
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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