During the 2010 governor’s race, I continuously made the statement that whoever won would be a one-term governor. My prophecy was based on the fact that the state was flat broke and it would take a lot of tough decisions and probably tax increases to fix the mess.
Former Gov. Bob Riley was not helping his successor any either in a concerted mission to spend every cent in an already barren cupboard. There was nothing in the state rainy day funds and all the federal stimulus money from Washington was gone. Unlike the federal government that can just print money, the state constitutionally has to live within its means.
Therefore, the new governor, Dr. Robert Bentley, inherited a ship of state that was like walking onto the deck of the Titanic. However, the good doctor from Tuscaloosa took the reins of state government with the same positive attitude that had resonated during his campaign for the office. He had connected with the Alabama electorate during his come-from-behind upset capture of the state’s brass ring of politics. He began his four-year adventure by declaring he would not offer any tax increases to resolve the state’s budget woes. This same mantra was espoused by his friends and former colleagues in the new super majority, ultra-conservative Legislature elected with him.
Dr. Bentley rolled up his sleeves and went to work, although he went to work at below minimum wage. In fact, he received no wages for being governor during his entire four-year term, living up to his campaign promise of not taking a salary until the state reached full employment.
His primary goal was to create new jobs. He made that the focus of his first four years. He indeed had some success. He helped lure several high profile, high-paying manufacturers to the state. He was not flashy or ego-driven but came across to fellow Alabamians as a good guy and a hard-working, underpaid governor. He was seen as a plow horse, not a show horse.
He further endeared himself to Alabamians with his outstanding service during devastating tornadoes that came through the state about two years into his tenure. He handled the catastrophe with aplomb and a sincere empathy that was evident. Indeed, the tornadoes hammered his home area. The worst damage and casualties were in and around Tuscaloosa.
After three years in office, the next governor’s race was looming. Dr. Bentley made it known early that he was going to run for a second four-year term. It became obvious to me that my prognostication four years earlier, that whoever was elected governor in 2010 would be a one-term governor, was going to come back to haunt me and that I was going to have to eat my words.
A cursory look at the initial polling of Dr. Bentley’s re-electability numbers revealed my prophecy was going to be a mistake. Polling indicated an overwhelming and unprecedented approval rating for the Governor. His positive ratings were driven by an incredible trustworthiness factor. Folks simply liked the old doctor from Tuscaloosa. He was like an old shoe – he felt good to them.
Therefore, it became obvious early on that he was going to coast to re-election and he did. Incumbents have an inherent advantage in all elections but popular ones really do. Thus, the 2014 election shaped up as a very dull year for Alabama politics. Bentley was perceived as unbeatable, so the election became uneventful.
He received token opposition in the GOP Primary. Two obscure people qualified. Bentley trounced them with an amazing 90 percent of the vote. He then went on to trample the Democratic nominee, Parker Griffith, by a recordbreaking margin of 64 to 36 – further relegating the Democratic Party to minority and uphill status in future statewide elections.
Bentley’s landslide victory was also remarkable in that he won so overwhelmingly without running one negative ad. I can now safely say that Gov. Bentley will not be re-elected in 2018, simply because he is prohibited by the state constitution from seeking a third consecutive term.
The race has already begun to succeed him and 2018 is shaping up as a much more exciting and unpredictable political year than 2014.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in over 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.