From the State House
The Legislative Session is a month old.
One third of the legislative days have been spent. The national economic recession has had a devastating effect on the state's two budgets. It has cast an ominous cloud over everything legislators try to undertake.
They are wrestling with the crafting of an Education Budget that is currently under 12.6 percent proration and facing a $300 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.
However, the legislature may be saved by the federal stimulus spending package. There may be as much as $3 billion of one time money coming to Alabama in the deal. Santa Claus may have come early in the form of one Uncle Sam.
We, in Alabama, are more behind the eight ball than other states because we are more reliant upon tax revenues that are sensitive to an economic downturn. We depend on sales and income tax collections, which are down dramatically.
We also have a Senate that has been stymied by a partisan stalemate that has rendered them dormant for the past three years. There was speculation that an internal Democratic battle would erupt over the transfer of the gavel from Hinton Mitchem to Rodger Smitherman. However, the Democrats coalesced around Smitherman in an 18-12 vote.
The tenuous coalitions are even more fragile, unyielding and unpredictable because three of the thirty-five Senate seats are vacant. Senator Pat Lindsey, one of the leaders of the Democrats, died unexpectedly in January leaving his Southwest Alabama district unrepresented.
Two other Democrats are also absent from this year's session. Parker Griffith from Huntsville has gone to Congress and Democrat E.B. McClain from Birmingham has gone to jail.
Pat Lindsey was an icon in the State Senate. He was considered one of the lions of the upper chamber. He was in his seventh term, close to 30 years. He died at 72, which means that he spent over half of his adult life representing the good people of Southwest Alabama in the Senate.
Another former Senator Tom King, Sr. of Birmingham died at 83 in January. Tom King's family has been a mainstay of Birmingham politics and law for three generations.
Tom King's father was a respected Jefferson County Circuit Judge. His son, Tom King Jr., currently sits as a Jefferson County Circuit Judge and is one of the most respected and popular judges in the state.
Another son, Alan King, serves as Jefferson County Probate Judge. Senator King was a stalwart legislator in the 1970's and was instrumental in passing legislation regarding election reform and educational support.
I recently had an opportunity to visit at length with former Gov. John Patterson. Gov. Patterson is doing well and living on his grandfather's farm in rural Tallapoosa County. He is fit and alert at 88 and he has penned a very popular book entitled, "Nobody but the People."
Gov. Patterson has been on a book signing tour throughout the state. The book is a good read. It highlights his term as governor from 1958 to 1962, but also his term as Attorney General from 1954-1958. It features his successful efforts to clean up the crime and corruption rampant in Phenix City in the 1950's.
The book also discusses his 16 years on the State Appellate Court after his term as governor. John Patterson is the only man to ever beat George Wallace in a race for governor.
Freshman Congressman Bobby Bright is off to a good start in Washington. The former Montgomery mayor is said to be a bright star in the new class of Democrats. The Pelosi team likes him and gave him choice seats on both the Armed Services and Agriculture Committees, which are imperative for success in the Second District. The Special Election to fill his former spot as Montgomery's mayor is set for March 10.
It appears that major initiatives that might be addressed during this session may be too divisive to make it through the legislative labyrinth.
Some legislators were sending up a trial balloon to test the waters for expanding gambling or lottery to help with the budget cuts.
However, Gov. Riley's adamant posturing against new gambling makes it a difficult proposition.
The rift between Gov. Riley and Attorney General Troy King seems deep and real. They are at odds over several situations, not the least of which is electronic bingo in the state.
A large resort entertainment center, which will feature electronic bingo machines, is marching ahead in Houston County. They believe that Riley is on the wrong side of this issue politically and judicially.
Democratic legislators hope to pass legislation to remove the sales tax on groceries. However, this legislation seems doomed by the stalemate in the Senate.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.