Governor breaks the Golden Rule

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Commentary by Steve Flowers

One of the golden rules of politics is that you reward your friends and punish your enemies. It appears that Governor Bob Riley has failed to learn this golden rule in his short tenure in politics. He has only been in the political arena for less than eight years, six years in Congress and less than two as Governor.

The old Alabama political icons such as George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom understood and lived by that political golden rule. Big Jim referred to the rule in a very folksy way. He said in politics, “You’re suppose to dance with those that brung you.” When a reporter questioned George Wallace as to why one of his political friends got a certain road project, Wallace replied, “Who do you think I’m going to give it to, my enemy?”

Our present Governor didn’t go to school with the old masters, Wallace and Folsom. In fact, one could safely say that Riley coined a new maxim, punish your friends and reward your enemies. It’s not a good way to get reelected but as I said in an earlier column when describing Riley, he is truly a nice guy, but nice guys usually finish last in politics. For example, Riley’s very first action as Governor was to propose the largest tax increase in the state’s history, and who does he pick to pay the tax but those who voted for him in order to help those who didn’t vote for him. Last year’s tax proposal was aimed directly at Republicans to help Democrats. It’s almost as though Riley took a rifle and shot at those who helped him the most. He singled out his largest contributors, ALFA, farmers, land owners, and forestry folks. He zeroed in on them to be directly hit the hardest by his tax plan. It was amazing.

However, he has made one exception, he has made a concerted effort to attack state employees at every turn and every chance. No governor has targeted them for scapegoats any worse unless it was Fob James in his first administration. Politically he should not be on the side of state employees or teachers because they went to the mat for Don Siegelman in 2002. He didn’t owe then any favors as governor.

He’s beginning to learn the rules of the game a little in his second year with his assault on state workers. However, he may have given his largest contributors and your average republican voter such a jolt with his 2003 tax plan that it may take long-term shock therapy to get them back on board for 2006.

Riley has been given a rough ride by the Legislature this year. He has played musical chairs with his legislative liaison team. He started out the year with Ken Wallis to head his legislative team. Wallis had been away from the Capitol for a decade and had never really worked directly with the legislature in his earlier years with George Wallace. He had been Wallace’s legal advisor in the 1980’s. He then went to work for ALFA and was with a Montgomery law firm when Riley named him as his legislative assistant. Wallis did not have much success in this role and midway through the session Riley named Wallis as his legal advisor after appointing Troy King as Attorney General. He has now picked longtime business lobbyist, Robin Stone, to be his legislative liaison. It is a tough job for anyone to fill as it appears that the democratically dominated Legislature is determined to be against anything Riley is supporting or proposing. However, Stone is no novice to Goat Hill.

Riley stayed within his inner circle when he picked an old ally, Jim Main, to succeed Drayton Nabers as his Finance Director. The selection ofMain rubs some Republicans the wrong way. Main is a plaintiff trial lawyer who made his millions as Jere Beasley’s law partner. He is independently wealthy from his success as a plaintiff trial lawyer, a profession reserved for Democrats. This connection bothers some business Republicans. However, Riley’s son Rob, who is his closest confidant, is also a plaintiff lawyer.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, especially in Alabama.

See you next week.

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