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Alabamians curious of who will run for governor

By By Steve Flowers
During the summer I have been traveling around the state talking with civic clubs about Alabama politics. With it being a presidential year, an obvious topic of discussion is the presidential contest. However, invariably the first question asked is who is going to make the Governor’s race in two years. Alabamians love the gubernatorial year. The presidential years are simply spring training for the real marquee event.
At every stop the first name mentioned is Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins. At first I thought people were dropping his name because Hawkins and I are both from the same neck of the woods, but after a while I could tell that they were unaware of our regional association. When talking with political insiders and handicapping the race, they were not surprised by my revelation.
Usually when you hear a name reverberate so prominently it is orchestrated by self promotion, but Jack Hawkins is reticent to commit to the challenge and is not encouraging the attraction. In this case it is a genuine draft. This is largely due to the fact that Hawkins would indeed be a perfect candidate.
Jack Hawkins is tall, dark and handsome with Hollywood good looks and charisma. At 63 he has the maturity and gravitas to look gubernatorial. He has a proven track record of success as a leader in state government. Hawkins was President of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind for a decade before taking the helm as Troy University Chancellor 20 years ago. In those 20 years he has transformed Troy University into a renowned worldwide system of higher education.
Hawkins, a native of Mobile, was educated in Alabama. He received his undergraduate degree from Montevallo and his doctorate from University of Alabama. In addition, he is a decorated Marine veteran who served as an officer in the Vietnam combat.
As a University President in Alabama for 30 years Hawkins knows the ins and outs of state government and more importantly the budget process. He would be the most articulate, polished and erudite governor the state has seen in the past 60 years. Therefore, the question is whether he makes the race.
There are a host of others looking at the race on the GOP side because the office will be wide open. Gov. Bob Riley will have completed his two-term constitutional limit. At least seven other names have been mentioned. In addition to Jack Hawkins, the three other upper tier possibilities are Junior College Chancellor and former State Senator Bradley Byrne, and businessmen Jimmy Rane and Tim James. These four are considered players because they can get the money to run. Rane and James could self finance their campaigns and Hawkins and Byrne have the ability to raise the money. Others mentioned are State Treasurer Kay Ivey, Secretary of State Beth Chapman, Retirement Systems guru David Bronner and retiring Congressman Terry Everett.
Six months ago when handicapping this race Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. was favored to beat the survivor of the crowded Republican primary. It appeared that Folsom would waltz through the Democratic primary and arrive at the dance unscathed with all his money intact. There he would face a tattered, beat up and broke Republican challenger who had battled through a bevy of Republican brethren in a barnyard family brawl and spent all of their campaign money.
However, the dynamics have changed dramatically. Democratic Congressman Artur Davis has all but announced that he is running for Governor in 2010. He has stated that he will make a formal announcement around the first of the year, or soon after the November elections.
Davis throws a major kink in the Folsom cakewalk to the Governor’s office. It also gives new life and a new perspective to the potential GOP candidates. Instead of facing a formidable opponent, who they would be an underdog to in the general election, the GOP nominee is looking at a race where if he or she wins their contentious primary they win the Governor’s race.
Artur Davis’ entry into the race makes him the apparent Democratic nominee. Folsom is probably relegated to running for a second term as Lt. Governor. However, it also guarantees that a Republican wins the Governor’s race. Davis need only look at the percentage of votes that Obama gets in Alabama in November and that is about what he will receive. If he is lucky it will be about 40 percent.
The GOP potential candidates are licking their chops at this prospect. They would have a tough row to hoe if Folsom was their opponent. However, Davis may hand them a golden opportunity.
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 contacted at www.steveflowers.us.