Riley bides time for special session
Steve Flowers, Guest columnist
The much anticipated and necessary special legislative session will commence shortly. A special session is imminent because the new budget year begins Oct. 1 and the general fund budget has to be in place before that date or state government will shut down.
It was first thought that Gov. Riley would call the session shortly after the close of the regular session in mid-May. He wisely decided to wait until the Senate conflict calmed somewhat and tempers had cooled. The Senators he conferred with made it clear to him that the lineup of which team they were on was very much up in the air and besides that they had their travel plans set for June and July and they were not about to change their junket schedules to work on state business. Even though the general fund is broke and the budgeting of it unfinished, they intended to use general fund money to travel.
However, there may be another motive in Riley's delay. The ongoing Senate tug-of-war is in full throttle. It appears that the recalcitrant Senate Democrats, who sway from team to team, have a new lineup in place and may make a run at dethroning Lowell Barron in a special Session. It does not matter that Barron is a fellow Democrat and put many of them in their present positions of power.
The nine renegade Democrats are out front in their efforts and appear poised to move against the throne prior to the 2006 elections. However, given the quixotic loyalty and shifting sand of commitments it is doubtful that the coup will occur. Riley's delay may be a sign that he is hopeful that the turncoat Democrats will be able to grab control because they are in collusion with and indeed teamed up with the 10 Republicans. Barron's majority Democratic team has treated the GOP Governor with disdain and derision and has made him a stepchild in the legislative process. Therefore, Riley would rather see the new team in control of the Senate.
Five of the nine Democrats have been on the minority team the entire term. They teamed up with the Republicans at the organizational outset and therefore have nothing to lose. Jimmy Holley of Coffee, Tom Butler of Madison, Gerald Dial of Clay, Ted Little of Lee and Tommy Ed Roberts of Morgan are the five constant minority members. The other four minority members are Jim Preuitt of Talladega, Jeff Enfinger of Huntsville, Larry Means of Gadsden, and Bobby Singleton of Greensboro. Preuitt and Enfinger are the leaders of the new group. Preuitt wants to be the new pro tem and Enfinger is the catalyst of the proposed takeover. He and Barron were close allies for the first two years, but had a falling out last year and Enfinger is now on the war path.
The strange new members are Means of Etowah and Singleton from the Black Belt, both strong Democrats from Democratic districts. It will be great drama whichever way it unfolds.
The budget needs to be passed and it will probably pass in the same form in which it came out of the House of Representatives in March and lay languishing in the Senate for two months untouched. It could have been and should have been passed by the Senate early in the Regular Session and there would be no need for a special session.
The constant wrangling in the Senate caused by the shifting of loyalties among Democratic Senators reveals the lack of leadership and discipline within the Democratic Party in Alabama. It reminds me of a statement made by the legendary American icon Will Rogers. When the sage was asked what political party he belonged to Rogers replied, "I belong to no organized political party. I'm a Democrat."
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.