The phenomenal success story of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is the political story of the year, regardless of who wins the presidency. Concurrently, if polls are to be believed, he could very well indeed be our next president. Two years ago who would have ever dreamed that a 46 year old African American Senator from Illinois would be the frontrunner for president.

Obama has amassed voter appeal among African Americans, liberals, independents and young people never before seen in the annals of American politics. Time will tell if his momentum will propel him past the vaunted Clinton machine and, if so, whether he can best a seasoned veteran John McCain in November. Currently Obama has amassed more money and votes than either of these two pros. His story is truly remarkable and it reveals that Americans have made a lot of progress in regards to racial prejudice.

We have our own amazing race story to tell in Alabama politics, lest anybody should relegate us to a backwater of racial intolerance. The newest member of the Alabama House of Representatives has blazed a remarkable trail. James Fields, a respected African American minister and former U.S. Marine, overwhelmingly won an open seat from Cullman County in January. The amazing part is that Cullman County is one of the whitest communities in Alabama. Fields was elected in a 96% white district. His historic win still has heads wagging and Republicans scratching their heads as to how they could have lost the race. Fields’ election gives Democrats a 62-43 margin in the 105 member House and illustrates the old adage that “all politics is local.” The folks in Cullman County obviously like James Fields.

Gov. Bob Riley remains very popular in the state. Probably because he has done a good job as Governor. He has surrounded himself with smart, successful businesspeople. His cabinet is one of the most stellar ever assembled in state government. His finance team of Jim Main and Andy Hornsby are doing a yeoman’s job handling the state’s finances in a difficult year.

Riley stuck to his guns and did not endorse anyone in the February 5th GOP preference primary. You could not tell if he voted for McCain or Huckabee. The Governor continues to sound and act like a candidate running for reelection. He keeps a pace, schedule and demeanor that is in campaign mode. The only thing is he cannot run for a third term. The only other option would be for the U.S. Senate seat of Richard Shelby in 2010. However, Shelby has given every indication that he plans to run for reelection and he is considered unbeatable.

In his State of the State address Riley threw down the gauntlet that he will fight for our share of water in our ongoing water war with Georgia and Florida. Riley pointedly stressed that “Georgia did not build those reservoirs and Georgia did not pay for those reservoirs. They were built with federal dollars.”

Our new junior college chancellor, Bradley Byrne, was forced to show his hand regarding his gubernatorial ambitions during budget hearings in January. Byrne is a Republican attorney from Baldwin County who gave up his state senate seat to be Gov. Riley’s choice for chancellor of the two-year system. Byrne was asked repeatedly during the hearings by Democrats if he would support a bill banning a chancellor from running for governor for two years after leaving the post. Byrne tried to dodge a direct response and was apparently caught off guard by the question. When asked again he responded “Are you trying to keep me from running for governor in 2010?”.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., who is the Democratic frontrunner for Governor in 2010, came forward with an agenda of his own. Folsom, who normally keeps a low profile and avoids controversy, posed a progressive and logical idea. Folsom suggested that the beleaguered general fund could be bolstered by tapping our significant oil reserves in Mobile Bay. Folsom’s bold plan would change the current tax to a volume based levy imposed when natural gas is pumped from the wells. The tax currently is based on a percentage of the value of the gas after it has been processed. This is a more transparent method and would avoid conflicts that arose in recent litigation with Exxon-Mobil.