Important Elections Only One Week Away

by Glynn Wilson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Oct. 30 – For the better part of the past month, it’s been a blast on the road “cowboying” in the Chevy van enjoying the fall weather and taking a break from television and politics out in nature – twelve days on the Gulf Coast and then four days taking in the peak color in North Carolina.

That’s me, in the Pelican Navigator on Lake James near Marion, N.C. Photo by Don Markum

The elections coming up next Tuesday, Nov. 7, however, are too important to ignore for any serious newsman.

Alas, I almost fell asleep trying to concentrate on the televised political debates tonight on Alabama Public Television.

Governor’s Debate Episode 2006

Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Gov. Bob Riley exchanged viewpoints in this live one-hour event presented by Leadership Alabama, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, Alabama Public Television and the Alabama Press Association.

Unfortunately, according to APT’s Website, the show is also sponsored by a few of the most corrupt corporate polluters in the state, including Alabama Power, Vulcan Materials and Entergen. It is also sponsored by one of the worst corporate spies in the country, BellSouth, which is about to merge with AT&T, now owned and operated out of George W. Bush’s Texas by Southwest Bell.

Oh, you didn’t even know about the debates? Why would you, since none of the corporate television news stations or newspapers in this state did much to promote public involvement in the show.

And let’s face it, the race may already be a done deal anyway. The latest polls show Riley leading the governor’s race by a margin of 57 percent to 32 percent.

According to an article out today in StateLine.Org:

Republican Bob Riley is vying to become the first Alabama governor to be re-elected and to serve two full terms since George Wallace in the 1970s. Incumbents have lost the last three gubernatorial elections in Alabama, and Gov. Guy Hunt (R) won re-election in 1990 only to be removed in 1993 for an ethics violation.

In a state where voters have demonstrated their willingness to split tickets, Riley appears headed for a second term with a strong lead in the polls over Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, the Democratic nominee. In an Oct. 8 poll by the Press-Register/University of South Alabama, Riley led with 57 percent of voters, compared with 32 percent for Baxley.

Baxley, elected lieutenant governor four years ago after two terms as state treasurer, is trying to become the states first female governor in four decades. Wallaces wife, Lurleen, was elected in 1966 when state law barred her husband from succeeding himself.

Riley, a former three-term congressman, has benefited from little scandal, a strong economy and the states efficient reaction to several hurricanes that hit Alabama and neighboring states in 2004 and 2005. Top issues in the race include property appraisals, minimum wage levels and tax cuts.

With the state now enjoying a budget surplus, Riley is pushing for more than $300 million in personal income and business tax cuts to be phased in over five years. Early in his administration, when state revenues were down, Riley had proposed a $1 billion tax plan that would have been the largest tax increase in state history. But voters defeated the proposed increase 2-1 in a special election.

Baxley said she opposes Rileys proposed income tax cuts and prefers that extra state funds go towards education and other government services.

But both candidates favor abolishing annual property appraisals in favor of appraisals every four years. During his tenure, Riley instructed his revenue commissioner to order annual appraisals, a move he said state law required. Baxley has criticized the Riley administration for this, noting that her first business as governor would be to do away with annual appraisals, which she describes as a de facto tax increase on Alabamians.

Baxley is pushing for the state to set a minimum wage of at least a dollar more than the federally mandated rate, now $5.15 an hour. Riley is opposed to a state-mandated increase.

Historic Election Year For Governor’s Races

According to an early AP story out on the main debate:

Baxley, Riley Debate Differances On Tax Cuts, Credibility

And of course the Alabama bureau of AP put out this story a couple of days ago, which just struck me as funny.

Washington Scandals Don’t Touch Alabama’s GOP Governor?

So why have the Washington scandals not touched Bob Riley? Because the pathetically weak Alabama press corps did nothing to investigate the stories. Riley’s connections to Bush and his lobbyist cronies have been on public display for any reporter willing to look and connect the dots. Unfortunately, since Sen. John McCain is now courting the conservative base in his obvious run for president in 2008, his staff would not cooperate with our own attempt to investigate all the connections.

So the best we can hope for is a change in the power balance in the U.S. House and Senate.

Also according to the latest polls:

Democrats Hold Double-Digit Lead in Competitive Districts; GOP Troubles Extend into Home Territory

With less than two weeks to go before the midterm elections, the Democrats not only continue to maintain a double-digit advantage nationally, but also lead by the same margin in the competitive districts that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Nationally, the Democrats hold a 49 percent-38 percent lead among registered voters, and a nearly identical 50 percent-39 percent lead among those voters most likely to cast ballots on Nov. 7.

An oversample of voters in 40 competitive districts – identified by a consensus of political analysts-shows that voting intentions in the battleground districts are about the same as they are in the “safe” House districts. Among registered voters, the Democrats lead by 11 points in competitive districts (50 percent-39 percent) and by the same margin in safe districts (49 percent-38 percent).

So even though none of the Alabama races will make a big difference in the Congressional elections, we can watch from here and have some hope that there is a good chance the power balance will change in D.C.

Sources in Washington indicate to us that the Senate could end up in a 50/50 split, putting the tying vote on many issues into the hands of Vice President Dick “Shooter” Cheney. What a wonderful prospect.

We will leave you with this final point. It is a point which we tried to get Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley to embrace in the last three weeks of the governor’s race, but she was obviously too afraid of being labeled a liberal to reach out to the most intelligent and progressive voters in this state who see no candidates with any creativity at all in their political platforms.

Photo by Glynn Wilson

A ruby-crowned kinglet (regulus calendula) caught in the net during the annual migration bird count across from Fort Morgan, Alabama.

To demonstrate this point, just turn to the group Birders United.

According to estimates from the National Geographic Society, there are 15 million or more voting age Americans who have a serious interest in the welfare of birds. Huge numbers of adults in our country watch birds, feed birds, keep lists of birds, and give large sums of money to organizations that protect bird habitats.

In the United Kingdom the formidable political force of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is frequently compared to the powers of the Teamsters Union in the United States. But most of the millions of bird people in America do not realize that they have the potential voting power to control the outcome of many elections in our country.

This is not just a utopian dream. In recent presidential contests, a swing of just a few thousand votes would have changed the outcome in a number of key states.

For example, if only 270 Republican bird watchers in Florida had shifted their votes in the 2000 presidential election, President Bush would not have won the election. In many states the number of adult bird enthusiasts is so large that an organized bird watcher vote could control the outcome of almost any election.

It is a big mystery to me, and a number of my closest friends, why some people who support conservation efforts continue, for other reasons, to vote Republican.

Hey, if you really think it is more important for a president to bash gays openly than to support sensible public policies on environmental issues, by all means vote Republican. But now that you know there is a such thing as a gay Republican (thanks to the Foley page scandal), maybe it would be worth reconsidering which party you vote for – or if not, why not just consider staying home on election day?

Better yet, go bird watching. Let the rest of us decide…

I will not be happy voting in a church thanks to the Bush Justice Department’s policy tearing down the wall between church and state. But I will be voting there anyway. And I will be voting for Ms. Baxley and any other Democrat worth checking on the electronic ballot.

Let’s just hope Diebold doesn’t steal the elections for all these so-called Christian Republicans. It’s not really all that funny what corruption and hypocrisy is supported by some people in the name of Jesus Christ.