A quiet session ahead?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Special to The Messenger

COLUMBIANA – State Sen. Bill Armistead, R-Columbiana, who is looking at hisown potential state race, said recently the Legislature will likely not tackle any controversial issues during this year’s election cycle.

Armistead also said he would also "definitely make an announcement … in the next 30 days" whether or not he would make a run for lieutenant governor.

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"I have been very encouraged at all the people across the state who have said I would be the strongest Republican candidate to beat Lucy Baxley," he said, referring to the Democratic state treasurer who has announced she is running.

He said he is giving "very serious consideration" to running.

An announcement in 30 days would put it close to two important election dates. The first would be Feb. 9, the first day to qualify as a Republican for statewide office. State law also indicates Armistead can’t raise funds while the Legislature is in session – except in an election year, where fundraising can be held 120 days before the election. That date would be Feb. 4. Meanwhile, the Alabama Legislature goes back into regular session on Tuesday. Gov. Don Siegelman, who is running for re-election for a second term, will formally open the session with his annual State of the State address at 6:30 p.m. The 30-minute speech, which is expected to give his legislative agenda for the session, is expected to be carried live over Alabama Public Television.

Armistead noted the Legislature rarely takes on challenging issues during an election year and really would like to do as little as possible. As for Siegelman’s agenda, he said few people in Montgomery seem to know what the governor will have as an agenda.

However, Armistead suspects from the recent special session it will involve running against the Legislature and corporate business.

"He will probably try to get business privilege tax passed to keep alive his fight against corporations," Armistead, saying the move would be "terrible."

Armistead said he does hope this session to pass voter identification as the elections are approaching.

"We need to hold every legislator accountable for voting for identification at the polls," he said. While the House has passed a voter identification bill, the Senate has never voted on one, he said.

"We must force this issue to the forefront so the people of Alabama can be assured we’ll have honest elections," he said.

However, Armistead said he does not expect any controversial issues to be handled until the 2003 regular session.

With Siegelman running and Lt. Gov. Steve Windom also seeking the governor’s seat, he expects both men to push their issues hard "but I don’t see the Legislature getting on board with either side." Most legislators will instead keep their distance to avoid taking sides in the campaign.

If Siegelman pushes an agenda, "I don’t see where he will get the leadership" to push it in the Legislature.

He said after Siegelman’s attacks on the Legislature in general in December, there are still some hard feelings as the legislators go back into a regular session only a few weeks later.

"None of us are anxious to go back," he said. "The wounds are there and he may be ready to pour more salt on them."

Some point out Siegelman may be undertaking a tactic the late Gov. George Wallace used.

"I don’t think Don Siegelman is George Wallace," Armistead said, adding it would

still "not be in the best interest of the state" to attack business and legislators to get re-elected.

Meanwhile, the Legislature still seems to be in more consensus these days in the wake of Sept. 11. The terrorist attack occurred while the Legislature was in another special session.

"It jolted all of us. I sense we have a deeper respect for each other than we have had in the past," he said, noting he hopes it continues.

Siegelman’s remarks about legislators, both in general and in name, last month has also brought legislators together, he said, noting the governor targeted both Democrats and Republicans.

"He pitted himself against all of us. He attacked us as a whole," he said.