Alabama’s Bob Riley does not have the national profile of some other governors, but even in the face of strong Democratic, bad ‘ol boy majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, Riley has been one of the best governors, anywhere, that I’ve ever seen. He cleaned up state government on numerous fronts, did a phenomenal job of industrial recruitment, balanced his budget while cutting taxes, improved government efficiency, and introduced major and successful educational reforms. In a terribly down year for Republicans both nationally and in Alabama in 2006, he won re-election with 59 percent of the vote. And now, with a top-to-bottom sweep of statewide and legislative offices by Republicans (partly a tribute to Riley’s leadership), Riley will leave office a month from now on a high note — with yet another major accomplishment. Alabama has an unusual system in which state legislators take office as soon as their elections are certified, rather than waiting until January. There is thus no lame-duck session. But the governor stays in office until January. Riley thus, for the first time in 8 years, has a brief window where he will be able to institute long-desired, good-government reforms, with a conservative legislature to approve them rather than the bad old gang go block his efforts. Today, Riley called a special session to do just that. Details, at this link, are well worth reading. The ethics reforms he proposes, which will almost surely pass in toto, are actually far stronger than the over-hyped reforms that gained Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal such good attention at the beginning of Jindal’s term as governor. Jindal’s reforms were marred by a few major loopholes; Riley’s will not be.
Mike Huckabee ran for president in 2008 with far fewer real accomplishments, and far worse ethics, than Gov. Riley has achieved. I don’t think Riley shares Huckabee’s ambition. He just wanted to do the best job possible for his home state. And he did.