Riley inherited a sinking ship
Steve Flowers, State perspective
Bob Riley became governor last January by being elected by the narrowest margin in Alabama gubernatorial history. Basically, it was a dead-even race between Riley, the Republican, and Don Siegleman, the Democrat. This 2002 split decision in Alabama almost mirrored the 2000 national split decision between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The presidential election this fall may very well be that close again.
Riley took office with less than an electoral mandate and, to make matters worse, he looked around and saw that both Legislative chambers, House and Senate, were overwhelmingly Democratic. They did not want him tampering with their Legislative organization or affairs in general. He quickly tried to become a factor in the organization of the Senate. He knew he couldn't be a player in the House organization. In the Senate skirmish he was late to the game and lacked the ammunition or experience to affect the outcome. Nevertheless he became involved and lost and got off on the wrong foot.
Furthermore the poor fellow inherited a state in the throes of the worst financial shape since the Great Depression. It is the worse ship of state one could have ever been handed. None of the problems he has had to wrestle with were his fault. The budgets are reeling from a weak economy coupled with decades of waste and sweeping of financial problems under the rug by previous administrations.
He has done a tremendous job from an administrative standpoint. He began by assembling the most outstanding cabinet in state history. His cabinet is so blue ribbon that it is like a "Who's Who of business success in Alabama." A good many of Riley's Cabinet members are such successful businessmen that the registry of the wealthiest people in Alabama would be the same as Riley's cabinet. They don't need their state salary to survive. Those who are not multimillionaires are perfectly groomed successful career administrators.
This stellar cabinet has taken the bull by the horns and looked at every corner of state government and has cut state waste and budgets to the bone. They have truly cut every agency and have spared no ox. Riley deserves much credit for cutting state spending.
Riley is a good guy. He is genuinely a nice, decent person who is truly trying to do the right thing. No one, not even his worse detractors, has accused him of any dishonesty. You have to respect him for his courage to address the financial dilemma head on and to offer what he thought was a proposal to solve the current financial nightmare. His proposal was well intentioned. It had to be one of the boldest and most courageous moves made by a governor in recent history, especially given the fact that his Republican base would adamantly be opposed to any new taxes. Riley's efforts as governor are well intentioned. The sad fact is that in politics nice guys usually finish last.
Most political observers give Riley's chances of being elected to a second term as slim or none. Many insiders believe that he and his wife, Patsy, don't want to serve a second term and he will not be a candidate. However, the next governor's race is two years away and lot stranger things have happened in Alabama politics.
See you next week.