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Be careful what you ask for

There is an old adage that warns be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. In less than a week either Ron Sparks or Robert Bentley will get their wish. Whichever one wins may wonder why in the world he ever asked to be governor.

At the beginning of the campaign both men were pegged by some pundits as also rans and by others as dark horses. However, one will be Governor of Alabama in January. Whichever man prevails will inherit a horrendous ship of state when he walks into the office in two months. He will face a monumental financial nightmare that will be like arriving in Armageddon. The state has been kept afloat for two years with federal stimulus money that will run out as the fiscal year begins and when the new governor takes office.

Dr. Bentley may readily question his sanity if elected next Tuesday. The 66 year old two-term legislator retired last year from a successful 40-year career as a Tuscaloosa dermatologist. He spent $1.8 million to win the Republican primary, 90% of which was his own money. He later revealed that he spent his life savings to self-finance his primary campaign. He tapped into his retirement savings and even raided his life insurance. In addition, if he wins he has promised not to take the $112,000 per year governor’s salary. Therefore, if he wins he will have to live off what is left of his retirement savings. If he loses he will have to go back to work as a doctor.

Bentley’s chances for victory look good. He has a comfortable double digit lead in tracking polls. He has done better at fundraising since his Republican primary victory and has out raised and outspent his Democratic opponent Ron Sparks by a 4 to 1 margin. Recent history is also on his side. A Republican has won five of the last six governor’s races. The only Democrat to win the brass ring of Alabama politics in the last 24 years was Don Siegelman in 1998. However, Siegelman was able to raise the same amount of money as his GOP opponent, Fob James, who was also a very unpopular incumbent governor.

The lieutenant governor’s race is another story. Jim Folsom, the Democrat, is favored to win an unprecedented fourth term as lieutenant governor. Many believe that he would have been a good bet to win the governor’s race had he not chosen to run for a successive term as lieutenant governor. Folsom has also out raised his Republican challenger State Treasurer Kay Ivey by an overwhelming margin. If Folsom prevails he may well be the only Democratic constitutional officeholder left standing. Incidentally, in the last 24 years we have had a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties. The streak will stay alive if Bentley and Folsom win.

There are two very interesting congressional races. Bobby Bright won the 2nd Congressional District race in 2008 as a Democrat. The seat has been in the GOP column for 44 years since the Goldwater landslide in 1964. The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee cannot believe that a Democrat is sitting in this seat. However, Bright is the odds on favorite to still be sitting in this seat come January. The Republicans have poured a ton of national dollars into the race but they fielded a weak candidate. Bright has had town hall meetings in hamlets that his 32 year old GOP opponent Martha Roby probably has never heard of much less visited. He has campaigned so relentlessly for two years that he has more than likely met most of his Wiregrass constituents personally. In fact, Bright has worked so hard and been so available that he has probably met more of his constituents in two years than his predecessor did in sixteen.

Steve Raby may very well capture the 5th District Tennessee Valley seat for the Democrats. He faces an extreme right wing Republican Mo Brooks. Both men are from Huntsville. If Raby wins it will be a big victory for the Democratic Party in a very Republican year.

Alabama voters will also decide whether to tap a state investment account to spend as much as $1 billion or $100 million per year for 10 years on highways and bridges. Proponents of Amendment 3 say that the money should be borrowed to improve roads. Opponents say we need to keep the savings account intact to help keep the General Fund from going broke. Given the mood of voters my guess is that Amendment 3 will not pass.

We will see next week.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.