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State mired in party bickering

Today marks the midway point of the year 2004. In four months we will know the outcome of the Presidential race. A close election is forecast nationally. On the state level and on the national level, Republicans and Democrats remain mired in partisan bickering.

In state politics, Governor Riley has had the unique opportunity to appoint the two highest legal offices in Alabama, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Attorney General. Three other State Supreme Court Justice Seats will be decided by the voters in November. These Court races and the Presidency of the Public Service Commission are the only state races. County Commissioners are running and there are some hotly contested local District Attorney races around the state. Richard Shelby appears to be a shoo-in for reelection to his fourth sixth year term. A somewhat dull year for state politics. Most political fans are already eyeing the 2006 state elections when the Governor’s race will be the highlight.

Also on the ballot in 2006 are all the constitutional offices such as Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Secretary of State and State Treasurer. The entire Legislature is elected, all 35 Senators and 105 members of the House and on the county level all sheriffs and probate judges.

The two names most often mentioned for Governor in 2006 on the Democratic side are Lt. Governor, Lucy Baxley and Speaker of the House, Seth Hammett. There has been some speculation that former Governor, Jim Folsom, may have an eye on the Governor’s chair or maybe even Lt. Governor. He has held both positions. Some observers believe that if Don Siegleman avoids conviction and is alive and breathing, he will run.

Roy Moore crops up on more lists than any other name on the Republican side. Most folks expect that if he decides to run it would not matter to him whether incumbent Governor Bob Riley runs or not. There is still bad blood there.

Supreme Court Justice, Gorman Houston, proposed to the Legislature a way to save over one million dollars in the Judicial Budget. Justice Houston who has been one of the finest men in Alabama political ranks will retire in December at the end of his term. He could not run again as the Constitution requires that all judges retire at age 70. He proposed that since he and Justice Douglas Johnstone will both retire this year that they take this opportunity to reduce the Supreme Court from nine members to seven. An obvious and significant savings. Ironically, the presumably fiscally conservative Republican Party legislators killed the proposal. They are enamored with their recent success in electing Republicans to the State Supreme Court. Currently eight out of nine members are Republican with Johnstone being the lone Democrat. They believe they will elect a Republican in his place and keep the two other judgeships up for grabs in the November General Election. That would make the Court unanimously Republican. I’m sure that is disconcerting to retired Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senator, Howell Heflin, that the Supreme Court has gone all Republican. While he was Chief Justice in the 1970’s he spearheaded the drive to streamline the courts and improve the pay. It was all Democrat at that time, 30 years ago.

Even though our Alabama Supreme Court judges are relatively unknown, they are some of the best paid in America. Thanks to the above mentioned Judicial Article passed in the 1970’s and generous cost of living raises granted by the Legislature. Judicial positions in Alabama are lucrative as well as powerful.

After these Supreme Court races are decided in November, very few Alabamians will be able to tell you the name of the judges they have just elected. In fact, less than 5 percent of Alabamians can tell you the name of any of the nine on the high court. That was not true while Roy Moore was on the Court. His Ten Commandments’ stand made him not only one of the best known political figures in Alabama, but probably one of the best-known judges in America.

Happy Fourth of July! See you next week.

Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column onAlabama politics. He served in the Alabama House of Representatives for 16 years. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.