Sunday, October 15, 2006

The governor's race in a nutshell

Alabama elections are mostly exercises in who can be surrounded by the most children and best decry the opponent as a liberal out-of-touch liberal who would destroy moral values with a tax hike. But occasionally, "issues" creep into the equation, too.

Today's Birmingham News facilitated such an intrusion with excerpts from recent interviews with the major gubernatorial candidates. The issue of the day was economic development, and predictably, both Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Gov. Bob Riley did their best to stick to the talking points and try to direct the off-message questions back on their preferred tracks.

A state minimum wage increase is one of the few proposals on which Baxley has taken a strong public stance, and she devoted a substantial amount of time to defending the plan's need and practicality. Meanwhile, Riley pointed to Alabama's economic growth during his tenure in touting a stay-the-course strategy heavy on across-the-board tax cuts. They both did a pretty good job of advocating for their policies, which, considering how central those plans are to their platforms, you would expect.

Neither candidate, though, seemed eager to address the fact that wealthier Alabamians' overall state tax burden tends to be lower than that of lower-income residents. Riley launched into some platitudes about the importance of families when the interviewer broached the subject, while Baxley said she categorically opposes all tax increases. That statement came even though she said earlier in the interview that she was for eliminating the sales tax on food and medicine and discussed the possibilities for filling the "revenue gap" that would ensue.

It'd be interesting to learn how Baxley would uphold a "no new taxes" pledge under those circumstances, especially given her support of repealing the annual property reappraisals that have poured thousands of extra dollars into education coffers in recent years. Because he likewise has vowed to sign off on a repeal (and even more tax cuts), that question is fair game for Riley, too.

These interview excerpts encapsulate why the margin is so wide in the gubernatorial race. Baxley's slams of Riley on his failed $1.2 billion tax plan (for which she voted) and the annual reappraisals he instituted in 2003 suggest that she, for some reason, is trying to run to the right of a Republican incumbent. That strategy seems incomprehensible; if Alabama voters want someone who sounds like a Republican, they're going to pick an actual Republican.

Meanwhile, Riley continues to chug along, leaning on a pretty good record and pointing to a slate of policy proposals that contains both good and bad ideas but at least sounds more coherent than anything Baxley has presented thus far. Three weeks away from an election that, by Baxley's own admission, will require "a minor miracle" for her to win, those are sure signs that state Democrats would be wise to focus their resources on down-
ballot races at this point.


Blogger Altoid said...

Amen on the Republican thing. Her lambasting Riley on the annual property tax re-appraisals is crazy and ALL counties need 10 mills to take some of the burden off the poor. If she had taken a strong stand on these issues and still stuck to the minimum wage increase she would be doing a world of a lot better. "In a nutshell" this November's Gubernatorial race is beginning to sicken me.

1:23 PM  

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