The bell has run and the gavel has sounded and the first regular legislative session of the quadrennium has begun. There are monumental issues facing the new legislature. These are not new issues and as usual there are not many new faces. Incumbency retention has set up in the Alabama Statehouse almost to the same degree as on the national level. Most campaign special interest money is placed on incumbents. Therefore, it is very difficult to defeat a sitting House member or Senator.

We find ourselves in Alabama in the same posture as Washington when it comes to governing. We are a mirror image. We have a Republican Governor and a Democratic Legislature, both House and Senate. In Washington we have a Republican President and a House and Senate with Democratic majorities. In addition both GOP Chief Executives, Bob Riley and George Bush, are lame ducks. Neither can run again. Thus the old saying, “a setting sun puts off very little heat.” This is a recipe for gridlock.

If you think partisanship is not as prevalent in Alabama as Washington think again. Party acrimony has arrived in Montgomery. In fact, the Democrats have a more demanding majority in Montgomery than they do in Washington. The national numbers are razor thin but in Alabama Democrats outnumber Republicans 62 to 43 in the House and 23 to 12 in the Senate.

In the Alabama House of Representatives partisan lines have been drawn. There is very little camouflage. Mike Hubbard, a Republican from Auburn, is not only the GOP floor leader he is also Gov. Riley’s closest political ally and has just been made Chairman of the Republican Party in Alabama. You cannot get much more partisan than that. It did not help matters much that Hubbard orchestrated an expensive negative media campaign against the Speaker Seth Hammett in his reelection bid to his safe House seat in Covington County. Not to be outpartisaned the Democrats spent a ton of money trying to unseat Hubbard in his Republican Lee County seat.

The Senate is a war zone. The explosive war for control waged in the organizational session is still reverberating and will continue with internal battles for the next four years. The stealth drama that unfolded in January with the 18-17 Democratic victory means war, continued constant wrangling, posturing and basic gridlock. It will be more of the same we have seen during the previous four years. Nothing has changed. You simply will have Hinton Mitchem as President Pro Tem rather than Lowell Barron, but the same team of players remain in leadership positions. The rules are the same, the tenuous shaky majority exists. It is the same song second verse. It is a recipe for continuous discord and partisan acrimony.

The Governor tried valiantly to put a coalition together that would give his budgets and programs at least a fair hearing. He had victory within his grasps but it was jerked away at the last minute. Riley will have huge hurdles to jump over to be a factor in the Senate or House. More than likely his budgets will be tossed into the nearest trash can and his initiatives will be dead on arrival.

I am reminded of a scene when Harry Truman was President and he had a particularly bewildering day after being lied to repeatedly by congressional leaders. Truman said, “If you want a friend in Washington get yourself a dog.” This is probably the way Riley felt when Senators Poole and Smitherman reneged and bolted on him in January.

The Senate rules adopted left the Lt. Governor powerless in the process. This suits Jim Folsom Jr. just fine. He did not want the responsibility and ultimate fallout that follows power. Folsom likes being a figurehead with the title of Lt. Governor. He can smile and cut ribbons, kiss babies, and not make any enemies while happily campaigning for four years without controversy. However his lack of interest and involvement in the organizational war did not sit well with many Democratic power brokers, especially the powerful head of the New South Coalition, Sen. Hank Sanders, who felt Folsom should have been more proactive.

The upcoming session should be fun to follow. I will keep you up-to-date.