Siegelman backers saying "I love Lucy"
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY-Lucy Baxley has kicked off her campaign for governor…Don Siegelman wants to have a debate with her…Gov. Riley thinks the huge surplus of education money should be used to build schools…and former Chief Justice Roy Moore is still taking a few shots from his critics for the fundraising campaign waged during the Christmas season by his wife.
All of which is to say that the most anticipated gubernatorial election in memory is already generating sparks, and to borrow an old phrase, "you ain't seen nothing yet."
Several hundred cheering fans showed up in Montgomery with their "I Luv Lucy" signs to give Lt. Gov. Baxley a rousing sendoff as she seeks to become Alabama's second woman governor.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of attendees at the kick-off were three powerful state senators who previously had been staunch Siegelman supporters-Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville and Vivian Figures, D-Mobile.
Barron, the controversial president pro tem of the Senate, not only proclaimed his support for Baxley but he took a shot at Siegelman.
"I think his era has passed," Barron told The Birmingham News. "It's time to pass the torch."
That had to make Siegelman wince.
Less than 24 hours after Baxley kicked off her campaign, Siegelman responded with his challenge for a debate. Baxley, who pointedly avoided mentioning Siegelman or his legal problems in her kick-off speech, responded by saying she might be willing to debate Siegelman after his legal problems with the U. S. Justice Department were behind him.
While the two Democrats were already beginning to scratch and claw, Gov. Riley stirred up a tempest of his own when he proposed that a huge surplus in the Special Education Trust Fund…it may be as much as $500 million…be used to build and renovate public school buildings in the state.
That suggestion, as politically attractive as it might be, didn't sit well with Dr. Paul Hubbert, the all-powerful head of the Alabama Education Association. He had already staked a claim on that surplus-he wants it used to give teachers a pay raise.
Riley countered that this is one-time-only money and to use it to finance pay raises…which would be a continuing expense…would be fiscally irresponsible. Without question, how this money will be spent will be a dominant issue in the legislative session which begins this week.
However it must be added that in an election year…and all the legislative seats are up for grabs this year…legislators have never seen a pay raise for teachers and state employees they didn't like.
To put it another way, in a political fight between a governor and Paul Hubbert, bet on Paul Hubbert.
This liability could be as high as $15 billion because of the spiraling cost of health insurance coverage and the increasing longevity of retirees.
Most private citizens and businesses already know what has happened to the cost of health insurance…it has gone out of the roof in recent years.
The same is true for the coverage provided for public employees. In 1998 the state paid $368 million to provide coverage for employees and retirees; it is expected to top $1.1 billion this year.
While one obvious solution would be to increase the contribution made by public employees, that suggestion has always come close to touching off something like World War III with the AEA and the State Employees Association.
"When I am cleared of all the charges against me I will have so much momentum that it will be no contest," he said. "My numbers show me leading her by 54 percent to 17 percent and I am almost even with Riley."
For the record, I returned Siegelman's call when I got his message but was unable to reach him.