As the world turns in Alabama politics another year is fast coming to a close. Dr. Robert Bentley is completing his first year as governor. He inherited a ship of state that was analogous to walking onto the deck of the Titanic. His predecessor, Bob Riley, did not do him any favors. Riley depleted every rainy day account available. In addition, the manna from heaven that came from Washington in the form of stimulus money has now run its course. The state coffers are in dire straits. The cupboard is bare and the state is facing financial problems unseen in state history.
If the state’s financial crisis was not devastating enough, Bentley was awakened on April 27 with the worst natural disaster in Alabama history. A record number of killer tornadoes ravaged the state. Some of the worst damage occurred in Bentley’s hometown of Tuscaloosa.
Bentley has also seen a series of changes in his original cabinet that looks like a scene of musical chairs. David Perry was Bentley’s initial Finance Director. He changed to become Chief of Staff after that post was vacated by Chuck Malone. Malone was appointed Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court following the resignation of Sue Bell Cobb. Gov. Bentley established a first for the State of Alabama when he named Marquita Davis Finance Director to replace Perry. Davis is a 44 year old Hoover resident. She is the state’s first female finance director and only the second African American to hold this coveted and powerful post. She was a surprising choice not because of her race or gender but because of her lack of experience in finance. She is an educator by training and has served as Commissioner of Children’s Affairs in both Riley’s and Bentley’s cabinet.
Bentley has chosen another one of his legislative colleagues to serve in his cabinet. His original choice for Alabama Development Director was former House Speaker Seth Hammett. Seth took this important job on a temporary basis. Bentley appointed Vestavia Representative Greg Canfield as his permanent ADO Director. Canfield joins several of Bentley’s legislative buddies in the cabinet. Mac Gipson and William Thigpen are heading the Alabama Beverage Control Board. Former Representative Spencer Collier is Bentley’s Homeland Security Chief.
Jefferson County declared bankruptcy in November. The state’s largest county defaulted on $4.23 billion of debt. The Jefferson County collapse and default is the largest in U.S. history. It has done irreparable damage to their reputation and will haunt them for decades on the bond market and in economic development. It will also more than likely reverberate with negative ratings for all counties and municipalities throughout the state.
Dr. Paul Hubbert, who transformed the Alabama Education Association from an ineffective entity to the most powerful political organization in Alabama, announced his retirement in October. Hubbert took the reigns of the AEA in 1969 at age 33. He rose to become arguably the most influential political figure of this generation. Over his 40 year reign he was the King of Goat Hill. Hubbert turned 76 on Christmas Day. The state and AEA will never be the same. He made quite an impact on public policy and education for four decades.
The longtime Director of Alabama’s Legislative Fiscal office, Joyce Bigbee, announced her retirement in October to be effective January 1, 2012. Bigbee has been Director of the Legislative Fiscal office for 25 years. Her expertise will be difficult to replace.
State Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale was removed as Chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee in November by his Republican colleagues. Senate Majority Leader Jabo Wagoner of Vestavia Hills will replace him. Beason was booted out after numerous controversies embroiled him all through the year.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange were overwhelmingly reelected in municipal elections this year. Bell bested five challengers and garnered an amazing 89% of the vote. Strange scored an equally impressive victory with 81% of the vote over his opponent.
Three prominent political figures passed away late this year. Emory Folmar, who served as Mayor of Montgomery from 1977 to 1999 and played a major role in building the modern Alabama Republican Party, died at his home in Montgomery in November. He was 81. Bessemer Circuit Judge Mac Parsons also died in November from a rare form of cancer. Parsons was the ultimate Yellow Dog Democrat. He was a colorful State Senator for two decades prior to going on the Bench. Parsons was 68. Ms. Ethel Hall also passed away in November in Birmingham. She was the first African American female to be elected to the State Board of Education where she served for 25 years.
Have a happy New Year.
See you next week.
About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at http://www.steveflowers.us.