The current regular session of the Legislature should be dubbed the accountability session. The question has centered more around who will get credit for proposing and achieving accountability in Alab
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 13, 2004
In the wake of a resounding 2-to-1 decision last September by Alabama voters that more taxes are not what we need, the Governor got the message, no new taxes.
The follow-up polls showed that we want “accountability” in Montgomery before we send any more money.
The Governor has made the accountability cry his hallmark legislative agenda.
He even went so far as to throw down the gauntlet and call for a Special Session on his accountability measures.
The democratically dominated legislature rebuked the Governor’s call for a Special Session and attempted to trump him on the accountability issue and introduced their own Bills, many of them similar to the Governor’s.
The question you may ask is, what is accountability?
It is a vague term and sounds great.
After all, who is not for a good and sensible accounting of how your state dollars are spent.
However, for the Governor to be successful, Riley should separate reform and accountability and come with a more simple, concise package.
Riley would do well to take a page from a renowned democratic strategist, James Carville, who was credited with electing Bill Clinton president in 1992.
He emphasized and made famous the KISS formula for success in politics, KISS being an acronym for keep it simple stupid.
The message was it’s the economy stupid when he stressed the importance of staying on one simple message.
It worked successfully as Clinton beat George Bush Sr. that year.
Riley has offered a litany or laundry list of accountability measures all well intended and many of them good government measures, but he has asked for too much and lacks political experience or clout to accomplish many or any.
For example, it is foolhardy to think that as a novice republican Governor Riley could beat Dr. Paul Hubbert, the recognized “King of Goat Hill,” on decreasing the benefits of his school teachers.
The same could be said for attacking state employees who have become dominate players in the last decade.
George Wallace with all his power and political savvy and in the height of his political heyday could not beat Paul Hubbert in a legislative battle.
That was 30 years ago and Hubbert’s power has grown even stronger.
Six governors have come and gone since then, some have tried Dr. Hubbert’s hand, others have decided that discretion is the better part of valor and walked away from fighting Dr. Hubbert.
He has been the most powerful man in the legislative halls for more than three decades and remains so today.
They don’t call him “Governor” for nothing.
He has built the Alabama Education Association into the most powerful special interest group in Montgomery, basically from scratch.
It was not much more than a social group when he took over the helm as a young man in 1970.
He is a brilliant and savvy political genius and he thrives on what he does.
He loves teachers and believes that improving education is the answer to many of Alabama’s problems.
If you look closely at campaign finance reports, they reveal that his organization is the largest contributor to most of the democratic legislators and a good many of the republicans.
His move to help republican candidates was brilliant.
He has realized that the growth of the Republican Party in the legislative chamber is significant and will continue.
Therefore, he is protecting his turf.
His campaign contribution to legislators does not stop with being their largest financial contributor.
He also delivers legions of education employees to work in their campaigns to stuff envelopes and knock on doors.
Then after he elects them, he gets to know the legislator better than anybody else.
He can tell you their wives’ name, their children’s names, where the kids go to school, where the wife may teach, their birthday and where they eat and sleep in Montgomery.
He knows them better than the FBI.
He combines this encyclopedia of the legislature and couples it with an unmatched knowledge about the legislative process.
You add to the ingredients the fact that teachers are very well respected in their communities, it makes him unbeatable.
All of us have a special teacher that we revere and remember as one of the favorite people in our lives, which reminds me of a story which explains much about Dr. Hubbert’s prowess as any I know.
There was a newly elected State Senator from Jefferson County who had won his election due to AEA’s support and endorsement.
It was about 1980, two years into his term, and he had forgotten who had gotten him elected and was feeling his oats and told Dr. Hubbert that he could not support him on a particular measure.
The Bill was pending in the Senate Education Committee.
The Senator sat on the committee and his vote was critical.
As the committee gathered and the Senator took his seat, seated directly across from him was his beloved third grade teacher for who he would wall over coals.
She had come to testify for the Bill.
She had never been to the Capitol to speak for a Bill before or since.
The sweet little lady never had to say a word.
The Senator changed his vote and voted with his third grade teacher and the AEA.
Dr. Hubbert knew the connection.
Governor Riley may be barking up the wrong tree to attempt to change the benefits of teachers and state employees.
He would be better served to heed the KISS formula and attempt to change one or two major things in state government.
Next week I will share with you two measures that would make a significant difference and may be achievable.
See you then.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly column on Alabama Politics.
He served 16 years in the State Legislature.
Steve may be contacted at www.steveflowers.US.