All candidates have their pros and cons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Journalists who cover and critique politics usually live by this critical creed: Analyze, scrutinize and be mean. Not sure how that really happened, but I assume it has something to do with that badge newspaper folks call “government [political] watchdog.”

Yes, you’ll find conservative columnists who wallow in W’s successes, and liberal columnists don’t mind scripting commendations on Hillary. As non-partisan as I’ve attempted to be (the campaigns of Bob Riley and Lucy Baxley have inundated me with disagreeing e-mails lately), I thought this might be an opportune time to offer a few encouraging words about the four major candidates in the Alabama governor’s race.

Let’s start with the Democrats and former Gov. Don Siegelman. Obviously, we have to mention the charges of corruption (which, so far, Siegelman has overcome), but the life-long politician has a record of state administration that gives us little need for worry.

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To begin, Alabama didn’t fall into the Gulf of Mexico during Siegelman’s first term. More impressive was his record for bringing business to Alabama. Along with the car manufacturing plants like Hyundai and Honda, Siegelman did work hard – especially in the rural areas – to promote business expansion. For those who live in the Black Belt, it’s hard to argue that Siegelman didn’t care about Alabama’s poorest region.

Another tangent voters must take into account was the state of the U.S. economy during the latter half of Siegelman’s administration. For the last year of President Clinton’s administration and the first few years of President Bush’s first term, the economy had a bad temper. If the national economy weakens – as it did from 1999-2003 – state economies also suffer. Siegelman did not make Alabama’s economy dip and its jobless rate spike. In a sense, he was a victim of the political term called “bad timing.”

Lucy Baxley is no stranger to Alabama politics, but as state treasurer and lieutenant governor, we don’t have a real record by which we can measure her. Here’s what I like about the Democratic candidate:

As lieutenant governor, Baxley is in charge of the Alabama Senate. On her first day as senate boss in 2003, Baxley walked into chambers and noticed that many Alabama senators weren’t in attendance; others ambled into their seats belatedly.

So what did Baxley do? She adjourned the entire day of senate business and told the politicians they better be on time the next day.

Baxley is a take-charge lady, and she’d do just as well if elected governor. She’s an administrator and that’s the most important characteristic of a governor. It’s also worth noting that Baxley has an incredible understanding of the issues facing this state. Whether in real estate or in politics, she has seen and heard every compliment and complaint about the needs of Alabama and she’ll take that knowledge with her if she beats Siegelman and a Republican opponent.

Like Siegelman, Riley also has a record we can measure, and by all political standards, he has been the most effective governor our state has had in quite some time (that’s my opinion). Much of Riley’s success can be credited to a soaring national economy – which is why he can boast of governing over the lowest unemployment rate Alabama has seen in decades.

Riley’s successes, however, span beyond that other political term: “Good timing.” For starters, Riley has shown more courage than any politician I can remember. To introduce his massive tax increase may not have been the savviest political move, but find me another Republican who would assess a problem and try to answer with a tax hike. (Fortunately or unfortunately for Riley, it turns out we may not have needed the extra revenue. In headlines last week, we learned our government has a $500 million surplus.)

Here’s what really sticks out about Riley, though: Many an Alabama governor has talked about improving life in Alabama’s Black Belt. Riley has made more of an impact than any administrator we’ve ever had. Obviously, he installed the Black Belt Action Commission, which has done heroic work to improve the region. Even more impressive is that Riley – after more than 50 years – was the governor who actually made the expansion of U.S. Highway 80 a reality. Other governors have talked about getting the work done. Riley got it done.

Roy Moore also has a record in state government, though it didn’t last long enough to really answer any questions. Moore is adored by many Alabama voters; he’s feared by the other half. However, Alabama would not secede from the union if Moore were elected.

It’s easy to say that Alabama would gain more national attention than ever before if Moore were elected. His stand for the Ten Commandments, and his volatile fight against government, would headline any national story on this state.

Here’s what I think Alabama voters must understand about Moore: He can’t pass legislation without the approval of the Alabama Legislature. Voters shouldn’t worry that Moore would make a mockery of our state because a governor doesn’t have that much power. Instead, Moore’s prerogative would only be to float ideas to voters and legislators, and then he’d have to sit back and earn the trust of those same folks. Moore might have unique ideas, but he wouldn’t turn Alabama into a laughing stock.