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Accountability is hot topic

By Staff
Steve Flowers, State perspective
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 Alabama's state government, the Republican governor or the Democratic legislature.
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.
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.
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.
Riley has offered a laundry list of accountability measures, all well-intended and many of them are 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.
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 yers 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. 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.
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.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the State Legislature.
Flowers may be contacted at www.steveflowers.US.

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