‘Thank God for Alabama’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Since I can’t write about the run-off election in Alabama, let me write about another election in a faraway state … the state of Alaska. It may make you wince.

Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, nears the end of his second term and cannot seek re-election.

Lt. Gov. Frank Ulmer is the leading contender among Democrats to succeed him, and he faces a tough challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Morkosky.

A pro-Republican political action group known as the Americans for Job Security has launched a TV blitz in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau attacking the record of Knowles, claiming he has led the state to the brink of economic disaster and warning that the election of Ulmer would be a catastrophe.

The commercials call attention to a ranking of the 50 states which alleges that Alaska is the most

&uot;poorly managed state&uot; in America except for one &045; Alabama.

I don’t need to tell you the closing words of the commercial:

&uot;Thank God for Alabama.&uot;

It is not often that an interview with a CEO of a major corporation creates much of a ripple in the political arena, but a candid conversation Charles McCrary, Alabama Power’s top man, had with a Birmingham News reporter raised a lot of eyebrows.

McCrary, who took over as head of the huge utility about a year ago, made one point: On his watch, the utility will be far more interested in profits than in politics.

For decades, Alabama Power has been one of the major players … one of the so-called &uot;Big Mules&uot; … in Alabama politics.

Most especially was this true in recent years during the administration of Elmer Harris, who McCrary succeeded last year.

Harris played a high-profile role early in the Siegelman administration. He chaired the inauguration committee and reportedly it was at his insistence that Siegelman appointed Henry Mabry as state finance director.

After he stepped down from the utility, he was offered a cabinet position in the Siegelman administration.

While steering clear of any criticism of the high profile Harris played in the political arena,

McCrary made it abundantly clear where his priorities would be.

&uot;My focus is on running the business and looking at the bottom line. Every CEO puts an emphasis on different things.&uot;

McCrary had already let Power Company employees know what his game plan would be.

He had told them in May to &uot;forget about trying to run the communities we serve or our customers lives.&uot;

At least one political scientist took McCrary’s comments about withdrawing from the political arena with a grain of salt.

Carl Grafton of Auburn University Montgomery noted that Alabama Power’s tentacles had been everywhere in the political arena for years.

&uot;It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Alabama Power would be changing , but we will have to see if they mean it,&uot; Grafton said.

Alabama may be a hotbed for stockcar racing fans, but you couldn’t tell it by the number of orders received for automobile license plates which saluted the various drivers.

Last fall, the state began taking orders for the specially designed tags which would pay tribute to racing legends such as the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and the Alabama Gang.

Tags honoring more than 30 drivers were available.

After 11 months, only 182 tags had been ordered, far short of the 1,000 required to begin production. State Sen. Gerald Dial, D-Ashland, the chairman of the License Plate Oversight Committee, said the poor response left the state with no alternative but to cancel the program.

The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) has filed suit seeking to recover more than $65 million it lost when Enron collapsed.

In addition, the suit is seeking not less than $210 million in punitive damages.

RSA General Counsel Bill Stephens said the awarding of punitive damages would &uot;send a message&uot; that the misleading of investors will not be tolerated.

The suit was filed in Montgomery Circuit Court