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Super Tuesday: ‘Red letter’ day in state politics

By By Steve Flowers
Next Tuesday, Feb. 5, will be a red letter political day for Alabama. We will be a full participant in Mega Super Tuesday. We will be one of twenty-two states holding a presidential preference primary that day. It will be the first time in decades that we will have a real say in the party nominees. With this many states, including the most populous states like New York and California voting, we may get an early indication of who will be the nominees for president.
We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic and unpredictable presidential races in most of our lifetimes. At this time, any one of four men could be the Republican presidential nominee. John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or Mike Huckabee could reasonably capture the GOP nomination. The Democratic contest is too close to call. Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama could either win the Democratic nomination. They are in a virtual tie nationwide and the polling in Alabama mirrors the national picture. They are in a dead heat in Alabama as the primary approaches. Polling reveals that the winner of the Alabama Republican primary will be either Mike Huckabee or John McCain. It is a tossup between Huckabee and McCain with less than a week to go before Super Tuesday.
Besides the presidential primary the 2008 Regular Session of the Legislature kicks off on Tuesday. Normally, the Governor makes his State of the State address on the opening night of the legislative session. However, due to our participation in the presidential primary cavalcade the Governor has pushed back his speech one night. Legislative leaders agreed that it was best for the Governor to address them on February 6th to avoid competing with the primary for attention.
The Legislature will face monumental issues in the next three and a half months. There are many leftover issues from 2007. The premier problems facing the Legislature are financial nightmares in the General Fund, primarily in prisons, Medicaid, and highways. While working on solutions to these current financial problems, hopefully the legislative body will create a rainy day fund that will cover shortfalls in lean tax collection years.
Our drunken driving laws need amending and strengthening. The Legislature attempted to strengthen DUI laws in 2006 but they botched it. Therefore, it needs revisiting, tweaking, and bolstering.
The perennial ethics reform issues will be put on the table by the Governor. They will include banning the money transfers between political action committees, which by design hide from the public the source of a contribution to a campaign. The Governor will pursue legislation requiring lobbyists to disclose all the money they spend on elected officials and also requiring ethics training for public officials.
Hopefully the Legislature, especially the Senate, can avoid making national news with brawls and fist fights. However, one of the first orders of business will be to wrangle over whether to censure or expel Republican Senator Charles Bishop for slugging Democrat Lowell Barron in the face on the floor of the Senate on last year’s last legislative day.
Basically nothing passed in the Senate last year because of the raucous acrimony among the members. The partisan politics got in the way of doing the people’s business. Miraculously the budgets passed. This is the only constitutionally mandated duty required of the Senate and that is pretty much all they accomplished. The spat over operating rules between the majority Democrats and the minority Republicans, allied with a handful of dissident Democrats, is childish and useless. However, this year does not look promising when Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner says, “You are going to see more of the same.” Veteran State Senator, Jimmy Holley’s decision to switch from the Democratic to the Republican ranks really has no significant effect on the politics of the Senate because Holley was one of the Democrats who organized and voted with the Republicans anyway. It should be an interesting session but let’s just hope it is not as interesting as last year’s.
Don’t forget to vote in the presidential primary on Tuesday.
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.