As the year 2006 comes to a close let’s reminisce about what happened politically in our state. This being an election year the races for Governor and other statewide contests were the big story. However, the election was almost preempted by the Don Siegelman corruption conviction. Siegelman’s trial lasted for months and dominated the news for almost half of the year. The investigation and ultimate indictment had been brewing for years. It ended in June with Siegelman’s conviction.

Many legal and political observers speculate that Siegelman was found guilty because he was linked with the infamous Richard Scrushy. Most Alabamians were shocked that Scrushy had not been convicted and sent to prison for life in the HealthSouth fraud debacle. The conviction ended the career of an Alabama politician who had been elected to statewide office five times and was on the ballot eight times, every year from 1978 to 2006. History will reveal that only George Wallace surpasses Siegelman for political longevity and tenaciousness.

Siegelman actually received 40% of the vote in the Democratic primary for Governor this year even after he was convicted. That should have portended to pundits that the victor of the Democratic primary was not as strong as once thought. Republican Bob Riley trounced Roy Moore 70% to 30% in the Republican primary and he never looked back. Polls had Riley leading Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley by double digit margins from the get go. He led by 15% in mid summer and had a 20 point lead by September. In mid October, three weeks before the General Election he had a 25 point cushion in the polling.

Riley’s frontrunner status gave him the luxury of having a 4 to 1 financial advantage over the challenger. He raised $12 million to Lucy Baxley’s $3 million. Riley’s margin of victory over Baxley in November was 16 points, 58% to 42%, a landslide win. His reelection resonated as approval of his first four years as Governor and folks obviously like him personally. However, it did not necessarily transfer into coattails for fellow Republicans.

The Republican Lt. Governor candidate, Luther Strange, rose from obscurity as a Birmingham based Washington lobbyist. He raised and spent tons of money collected from Birmingham business groups and individuals and bought slick television ads which catapulted him to an upset victory over George Wallace Jr. in the Republican primary. He was predicted to win with Riley’s coattails and support but a well funded Jim Folsom Jr. upended the Strange juggernaut on November 7th. Folsom, as Lt. Governor, will be the highest ranking Democratic officeholder.

Another Democrat, Sue Bell Cobb, won the other high profile race. She defeated Riley appointee Drayton Nabers for the important Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court seat. She was outspent but still prevailed. This race was the most expensive judicial race in the country with over $4 million spent. Alabama again led the nation in campaign expenditures for judicial races with $10.6 million. We are only one of the seven states that elect judges in partisan contests. The other four judicial seats up for grabs were all won by Republicans, thus leaving our State Supreme Court with eight Republicans and one Democrat.

The GOP also captured the Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and State Auditor posts but the Agriculture Commission job remained in Democratic hands. Therefore, the Republicans hold five of the seven Constitutional offices. However, the Democrats retained an ironclad lock on the Legislature. The Senate will have 23 Democrats and only 12 Republicans and the House will have 63 Democrats and 42 Republicans. This Democratic control of the Legislature along with a Democratic Lt. Governor will make for rough sledding for Gov. Bob Riley in his second term.

What do we look for next year? The aforementioned Senate will be the first news story. The war for control of the Senate is raging right now. The tug-of-war will culminate in two weeks with the convening of the organizational session on January 9th. It will follow with partisan bickering and gridlock between the Republican administration and the Democratic Legislature. The Legislature will win the battle over the budgets where there exists a “Tale of Two Budgets.” The Education Fund is flush while the General Fund is depleted as always.

The biggest story of 2007 may well be the developing scandal in the Junior College System. The corruption is widespread and monumental. It permeates the system. It will be surprising if dozens of officials are not convicted for acts that are astoundingly brazen for this day and time. Alabama politics is always interesting.Happy New Year.