As the New Year begins a few additional observations from last year as a follow-up to last week’s year-end review. The most significant political event was the indictment and escape from conviction by former Governor Don Siegelman. The final script may not yet be written on Siegelman’s problems. A grand jury is still out in Montgomery.

Governor Bob Riley, hungry for some semblance of legislative success and respect, may have fallen into yet another trap set by the smartest politician in Montgomery. Dr. Paul Hubbert lured Riley into the pitfall of proposing the largest tax increase in state history in 2003. Riley came hat-in-hand to Hubbert again in the October Special Session. He asked Hubbert and Mac McArthur what they would agree to in cost savings measures to help reduce the surging costs of state teachers’ and state employees’ health insurance. They agreed to a plan that would allow their boards, if they so choose, to increase the premiums for smokers and early retirees. The measures passed in a minimum week long session.

The Special Session allowed Governor Riley to boast that he successfully cut health insurance costs while the wily Hubbert set the stage for a pay increase for his education forces in the upcoming Regular Session. The Education Trust Fund is flush with new money from the growth in sales and income taxes. Hubbert has the problem of health insurance costs swept under the rug and will proceed in for the kill.

Statehouse observers chuckle at the naiveté of Riley and the prowess of Hubbert, the undisputed King of Goat Hill. That is why Capitol Hill insiders refer to Hubbert as the Governor and Riley as the Rube.

Riley continues to be ignored by the Legislature. He is basically irrelevant in the process. When the Regular Session begins February 1, most of his proposals will be shelved and his budget tossed in the garbage.

During the reign of George Wallace people would say the office of the Governor carries immense power in Alabama. As I have grown older I realize that the power of the Governor’s Office is not naturally inherent in our Constitution, instead it is earned and developed. Wallace’s power derived from his control of the Legislature. The members gave him that power out of fear, intimidation, and his popularity during the 1960s. The real power in state government lies with whoever holds the purse strings. The Legislature has that power and does not want to relinquish it. The Legislature holds the key to the Treasury and the golden rule of politics is “those who have the gold make the rules.”

Riley is naive and inexperienced. However, in his defense any Republican Governor would have a difficult time with a Legislature dominated by Democrats.

Rumors in political circles swirl that Richard Shelby, with his gargantuan war chest, may make his millions available to the Republican Party in 2006 to assist them in taking over or at least getting parity in one chamber of the Legislature. Democrats have a 25 to 10 majority in the Senate and a 65 to 40 hold in the House. The Senate may be the easier target because there are five Democrats who vote with the Republicans and might join them in organizing the Senate.

Shelby has $10 million in campaign cash. He is a prolific fundraiser and has a propensity for helping Republican candidates. It is uncertain if he would be this proactive on behalf of his adopted party because he still has close ties to the Trial Lawyers who may lean on Shelby to leave their State Senate Democratic friends alone.

In addition, Shelby’s money may not be enough to oust some State Senate Democrats who Republicans think vulnerable. Most of them have been in the State Senate longer than Shelby has been in the U.S. Senate. A good example would be State Senator Roger Bedford of Russellville. The GOP would love to have Roger’s scalp, as much as the National Republicans wanted Tom Daschle. Roger may be a poster boy for pork and made a scapegoat statewide, but in his rural northwest Alabama district he is extremely popular. Roger is a folk hero, as evidenced by the record vote he and his wife, Maudie, received in their Convention Delegate race last summer. Senator Bedford would be very difficult to beat, as would the other Democratic Senators. They have done their homework for decades in their areas. “All politics is local,” especially in State Senate races.