More than one way to skin a cat?

Published 7:24 am Wednesday, August 22, 2007

By Staff
In 1971 George Wallace was at the height of his political power. Including his wife's election in 1966, Wallace had been elected governor of Alabama three straight times. Much like today several of the general fund agencies were in dire financial straits. Wallace chose to remedy the problems in prisons and mental health with a loan from the Teachers' Retirement Fund. Dr. Paul Hubbert had only been head of the fledgling toothless Alabama Education Association for less than two years. He was a young, clean-cut, new kid on the block. He looked a lot like Albert Brewer. In fact Hubbert and Brewer were allies and friends. Hubbert had supported Brewer in that historic 1970 contest which Wallace won by the skin of his teeth.
Hubbert threw down the gauntlet at the Wallace proposal. He called the Wallace proposal to borrow teacher retirement funds a raid that the educators of Alabama would not take lying down. Wallace was the undisputed King of Goat Hill. He had controlled the legislature for close to a decade. He had immense power in the legislature that no governor had ever had before nor has had since.
A host of governors have come and gone during Dr. Hubbert's reign, and he has easily deterred their attempts to derail his agenda. Bob Riley sparred with the real governor during much of his first term to no avail. Riley's education budgets and proposals were quickly tossed into the nearest trash can and Hubbert's AEA budget was substituted and approved.
However, Riley recently sought a different venue to attack Hubbert's legislative power base. Knowing he could not beat Hubbert in the Legislature, Riley pulled off a coup with the state school board to name his Republican ally, Bradley Byrne, as chancellor of the scandal rocked two-year junior college system. Now two months into his tenure as chancellor, Byrne is proposing to the nine member elected school board a sweeping and pronounced policy change that Riley and the Republican Party crave.
Byrne will recommend to the state school board that they ban legislators from working in two-year colleges after the 2010 election. It will also end all contracts lawmakers have with two-year schools.
The state school board is made up of a majority of five Republicans and four Democrats. Two of the four Democrats favor the Byrne/Riley initiative. This bold and creative move on the part of Riley and Byrne, if enacted and upheld, will have a profound effect on the Legislature even if it is 2010 before the true effect is felt. Public opinion is in favor of these changes considering the brazen corruption in the junior college system coupled with the revelations that 43 legislators, their close relatives, or businesses have received payments from the two-year college system from 2002-2006.
Riley and Byrne's end-run is a brilliant political play. Their move to end double-dipping could change the playing field significantly in the next quadrennium. They could not beat Hubbert in the legislative arena, but Riley figures that the school board is a different venue and that dog just might hunt. Riley has learned that there might be more than one way to skin a cat.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.