Good times give Riley political license

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006

MONTGOMERY &8212; Gov. Bob Riley looked remarkably like the cat that swallowed a canary as he delivered his State of the State of the State address last week.

No governor in Alabama history had more to smile about than did Riley.

Rather than talk about shortfalls and recessions and lay-offs &8212; which has been the standard content of most State of the State addresses for decades … Riley talked about the biggest surplus in state history … perhaps as much as $1 billion. Rather than talking about raising taxes he proposed cutting them.

If he had died on the spot it would have taken the embalmer three days to get the smile off Riley&8217;s face.

It matters not whether Gov. Riley had anything to do with causing the good times to roll in Alabama … the mere fact that it happened on his watch gave him the license … the political license … to claim the credit.

Meanwhile, only a few feet behind him, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who has hopes of getting his job in the November election, could do nothing but listen with a forced smile on her face. She applauded at times, but never with enough gusto to crack an egg.

There were no surprises in Riley&8217;s legislative package, which he outlined in his speech. He wants upwards of $500 million of the surplus to be used to build new schools and repair old ones; he wants to give teachers a pay raise (but predictably he doesn&8217;t propose as much as AEA&8217;s Paul Hubbert is asking).

He also renewed his support for term limits on public officials (don&8217;t hold your breath waiting on the legislature to approve that), and legislation to reduce the power of special interests.

And in case you missed the speech, fear not … Riley had a small army of cameramen shooting his every move and the product of their work will surely be seen in campaign commercials in the coming months.

The Democratic Party had a reunion of legislators on the eve of the opening of the 2006 regular session and be sure the old-timer who stole the show was Fuller Kimbrell.

Kimbrell served as floor leader in the State Senate for Gov. James E. &8220;Big Jim&8221; Folsom during his first administration &8212; 1947-51. In Folsom&8217;s second term he was his Finance Director. A native of Fayette, he represented Fayette, Lamar and Walker counties in the Senate.

And before you ask, on June 22 of this year his birthday cake will have 97 candles. Kimbrell now lives in Tuscaloosa and if you think he was driven to Montgomery in a nursing home van, forget it. On occasions he has been known to drive himself to Montgomery to see old friends.

By the way, Kimbrell is nearing completion of his second book about his life in the Alabama political arena. If he tells all he knows … which he doesn&8217;t dare … it will be a best seller.

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