Governors race begins to generate big sparks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

MONTGOMERY &8212; 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 fund-raising campaign waged during the Christmas season by his wife.

All of which to say that the most anticipated gubernatorial election in memory is already generating sparks, and to borrow an old

phrase, you ain&8217;t seen nothing yet.

Several hundred cheering fans showed up in Montgomery with their &8220;I Luv Lucy&8221; signs to give Lt. Gov. Baxley a rousing sendoff as she seeks to become Alabama&8217;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 &8212; 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.

&8220;I think his era has passed,&8221; Barron told the Birmingham News. &8220;It&8217;s time to pass the torch.&8221;

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&8217;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 &8212; 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&8217;t like.

To put it another way, in a political fight between a governor and Paul Hubbert, bet on Paul Hubbert.

Bob Ingram has been covering Alabama politics for more than 50 years