I’ll let somebody not already enthralled with just-retired (term-limited) Alabama Gov. Bob Riley write the definitive piece, from a fresh perspective, about what sort of a choice Riley would be for president. With Mike Pence out of the race, though, a hole still gapes in the presidential field, and it is my opinion that Riley could fill it. It’s not that he presents the same profile as Pence — not at all — but that he could enter as a mainstream, competent conservative with a proven record of success and no philosophical weaknesses and no personal baggage. The only reason he’s not better known nationally is because he kept his focus on his job of serving as governor of Alabama, rather than scampering for the cameras and a national audience every chance he got. In other words, he’s not all about his own ego: He’s just about doing his job.
By almost all accounts, he did that job quite well. Many on the right and in the center say he was the best governor Alabama has ever had. I covered his first race for governor and his first term at close hand, and kept very good tabs on his second term from a distance. I was tremendously impressed.
The ONLY reasonable knock against him is that CATO’s report card gave him some bad grades before giving Riley a “B” last year. I love CATO’s small-government perspective, but it should mean nothing in Riley’s case. Why? Because the governor of Alabama has almost no power of the purse. Yes, he has a veto, but — get this — it is toothless. It takes only a simple majority in the Legislature to override the veto. So the EXACT SAME legislative majority that passed the spending can override the veto and put the spending into law. And for eight years, Riley dealt with overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature — majorities almost entirely in hock to the worst, most outrageous education union in the country.
The result was that Riley was hamstrung — but, for anybody who really watched closely, Riley found numerous ways to keep spending below what it otherwise would have been. Here is the statistic that should really get the attention of fiscal conservatives: While boasting a balanced budget and a rainy day fund, Alabama still has the second lowest overall taxes in the nation. So if taxes are incredibly low and the budget is balanced and there is a trust fund (actually, several trust funds) in reserve, that is an indicator of a well-managed administration.
Riley has a sort or Reaganesque look about him, and he lights up a room in person and on a podium. His accent takes getting used to, but it sounds friendly rather than Haley Barbour’s “backwoods tough” kind of Southern accent.
Meanwhile, Riley did wonders for economic development, education reform, and ethics reform, and he did a superb job (without fanfare) managing responses to Katrina and to the BP oil spill.
Riley has expressed no interest in running. He is, however, the sort of person whom conservatives should be trying to recruit into the race. Such a man can only improve the field of candidates.