Special sessions give governor advantage

Published 11:12 am Friday, October 5, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
Rumors are that Gov. Riley still plans to call a special legislative session for late October. An extraordinary session of the legislature is designed for emergency problems arising in state government that require legislative approval. George Wallace used the special session route often and masterfully to get what he wanted. He had a powerful grip on the legislature during his reign. In addition, the constitutional requirement inherent in a special session, which requires the legislature to focus on what the governor calls the session for, gives a governor a tremendous advantage in getting his issue approved.
However, Riley does not have the clout that George Wallace had in his heyday. Quite to the contrary, Riley has been treated with complete disregard and disdain by this democratic dominated legislature. His programs have been ignored and he has been pretty much irrelevant in the legislative process.
Riley is expected to call the session to deal with his ethics legislation which failed to even get out of committee during the regular session, which ended in June. It is puzzling to political insiders as to how Riley would hope to have any more success in October.
The tenuous minority coalition in the senate is crumbling. The democratic majority in the senate has picked up one dissident democrat over the summer. Sen. E.B. McClain has come back home which gives them a 19 to 16 majority and the other four democrats who organized and aligned with the republicans, Larry Means, Tom Butler, Jimmy Holley, and Jim Preuitt, are getting a lot of heat to rejoin their party in the battle for control of the senate. Rumors have persisted all summer that Means will be following McClain.
This movement gives Riley's proposals little chance of success. Knowing he cannot pass his ethics package it is obvious that if he calls for a showdown his intention is to embarrass the democratic legislature politically.
This move could backfire on the Governor and he could wind up the one with egg on his face. The legislature could ditch Riley's bills and substitute their own agenda aimed at the Governor. They might send him legislation that would require anyone who influences the awarding of contracts to register with the state. Riley objected to similar legislation in June saying it was too broad.
The bills were written to make the Governor's children, Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell, register as lobbyists. Democratic lawmakers who pushed the bills believe Riley's two offspring have received lucrative contracts for peddling their influence during their father's tenure. Undoubtedly the legislature also would include new regulations regarding the state airplanes. The Governor had omitted a flight to a political fundraiser earlier in the year.
In short Riley's plan to throw the gauntlet down at the feet of the legislature might be ill advised. A fall special session would be futile and would just throw fuel on the burning fire of partisan politics blazing in Montgomery. The partisan acrimony has not subsided since the circus sideshow that occurred the last day of the regular session in June. As you recall we made international news with Charles Bishop sucker punching Lowell Barron in the face. It was the blow seen round the world.
Riley should rest on his laurels with his pulling off the political coup of the year when he got the State School Board to appoint Bradley Byrne as Chancellor of the Junior College System and then to get the board to disallow legislators from being on junior college payrolls and serving in the legislature at the same time. This double-dipping prohibition is big. Riley would be smart to leave well enough alone.
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/>.

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