Riley must answer for job vote
Kim N. Price, Special to the Enquirer
There is a lot of talk in the governor's race about credibility, integrity and honesty in government. Most of the attacks so far have been leveled at Gov. Don Siegelman. There are no doubt issues that have plagued Siegelman's term that from an appearance standpoint alone have raised more questions. He must deal with those to assure voters the problems have been corrected, and that similar mistakes will not happen again.
The camp of U.S. Rep. Bob Riley also has issues surfacing that will force him to break his silence and finally answer some questions – questions about costing jobs, instead of creating them. Questions like why he has the fourth-worst career attendance record out of the 435 members of Congress? And why, when he did show up to vote, why he voted for legislation that cost 200 textile workers their jobs in his own hometown. That Clay County plant was located right next door to Riley's own business in Ashland. The Siegelman camp says while Riley's votes in Congress have been costing jobs in the state, the governor has secured more than 68,000 jobs.
Republican State Chairman Marty Connors said Thursday that while Siegelman has touted the 68,000 new automotive sector jobs, other jobs have been lost in the state. He said the governor is not talking about those losses, but stopped short of blaming, the problems of the economy on the current administration. While textile corporations like Russell have been able to successfully cut costs with the ability to send sewing and other production jobs overseas, one bill that received congressional approval expanded the policies of NAFTA.
The bill was H.R 3009, one vote Riley did show up for. Riley was one of the 215 members of Congress who voted for the bill, the same day 214 members voted against the bill. If Riley is a no-show, it does not pass. The measure would eventually grant trade promotion authority to the president, congressional negotiating powers, which will mean expanding the policies of NAFTA beyond Mexico to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The so-called NAFTA-II legislation survived on Dec. 6, 2001, and won final passage in July 2002, despite pleas from many in the textile industry to stop it, including the head of Avondale Mills.
The bill passed again 215-212. It allows the president to expand NAFTA-like policies across the world. Analysts have said passage of the bill was the deathblow to what remains of the textile industry in Alabama. A Global Trade Watch group claims Riley's vote was tied to a $4 million reason. The activist group said Riley switched his vote after President Bush helped him raise some $4 million in a fundraiser in Birmingham. The final vote on the bill came just two weeks after Bush's visit. The vote is seen as one that dealt a serious blow to Alabama's manufacturing industry. Even stranger, Riley had consistently voted against preferential trade agreements and expanded deal-making authority for the president until his July vote, according to Lori Wallach of the Global Trade Watch group. Wallach questioned if Riley's "flip-flop" vote – which raised eyebrows in Washington – was tied to the visit to Alabama just two weeks earlier.
Riley's campaign maintained there is no connection. Riley's spokesman, David Azbell, admitted the President personally asked Riley to vote for the proposal. Whom Riley must answer to are the workers affected by the legislation. Six sewing factories in Riley's third congressional district have closed since 1998, according to a New York Times' article. The Riley vote on the "fast-track" measure might not seem like a big deal, unless you have lost your job in the textile industry recently. Riley's vote opened American markets to cheap foreign markets. The legislation waives or lowers U.S. duties on foreign imports. Analysts say African apparel exports to the United State will now increase 17 times. The full ramification of stripping Congress of its power to amend trade treaties and protect American jobs has not been felt.
This is the scenario: American jobs go to these foreign countries, where they produce goods at lower prices than American companies can produce them. Workers here then lose their jobs when the retail sector suffers. Maybe it's time the credibility issue focused on how much Riley has hurt Alabamians in his district.
There really are credibility issues in this race. Instead of creating jobs, Riley's congressional votes say otherwise.
Kim N. Price is publisher of The Alexander City Outlook and is president of the Alabama Press Association., His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.