November 19, 2006

Weekend Question 3: Who Is America’s Soon-To-Be Best Governor?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 2:40 pm

ANSWER: With Florida’s Jeb Bush leaving (see previous post), it appears to be Alabama’s Bob Riley.

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From Quin Hillyer’s column this past Thursday at OpinionJournal.com:

As Republicans coast to coast were burying their many political dead, a Republican governor once given up for dead was enjoying a landslide victory. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was re-elected last week, beating long-popular Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley with more than 58% of the vote, including an impressive 20% of the black vote. His victory was not simply the result of Alabama being a Republican state: Democrats won the two next most prominent statewide races, those for lieutenant governor and Supreme Court chief justice. In Alabama as elsewhere, this was a Democratic year–with the notable exception of Mr. Riley, a conservative reformer in cowboy boots, with a cheerful, Reagan-like demeanor.

….. During his first year in office, Mr. Riley pushed an ambitious, complicated tax-reform proposal that was part of a multiyear plan to shift revenues to under-funded departments such as law enforcement while relieving the tax burden on low-income workers. Derided (a bit misleadingly) by opponents as a huge tax increase–although far more people would have enjoyed a tax cut than endured a tax hike under the proposal–the initiative was destroyed in a statewide referendum, receiving only 32.5% of the vote. Pundits immediately pronounced the governor a total goner.

How, then, did Mr. Riley recover from such political disaster to win re-election so resoundingly? Not just Mr. Riley but editorial writers across the state will readily identify his successes in the “Three Es”: economic development, education and, not least, ethics. Consider the statistics: An unemployment rate that dropped to an astonishingly low (especially for Alabama) 3.3% from 5.3%; school test scores rising, especially in reading proficiency in at-risk schools blessed with the Riley-backed (and nationally copied) Alabama Reading Initiative; and public standards of ethics combined with radically open government records, along with measurable performance standards imposed on every department of state government.

….. A labama has been ravaged by three hurricanes during Mr. Riley’s tenure, and the state’s response each time was a model of effectiveness. Listen to Howard Shell, since 1986 the mayor of Atmore (pop. 8,000): “Ivan and Dennis both hit us hard. . . . For the city of Atmore, Gov. Riley was really responsive when we really needed it. Just one phone call to him, and he began to make things happen. He got us extra law enforcement right away, he got forestry experts [to clear fallen trees], he got all the state agencies to help in every way. . . . He’s one of the most proactive governors we have had, the best we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Mr. Riley’s particular genius, meanwhile, has been evident in his efforts at business development. He consolidated nine different state agencies charged with economic development into just one, hired top-notch administrators and used federal grants more wisely by paying attention to small details such as re-routing small roads, building water tanks and improving the state’s job-training agencies so that they provide what he calls “job-specific, product-specific, even company-specific training.”

For four years running, Southern Business and Development Magazine has named Alabama its “state of the year.” Site Selection magazine ranked the Alabama Development Office as the top such agency in the nation. And even in the state’s rural, long-impoverished “Black Belt” (so named for the color of its loamy soil), unemployment has dropped to 7.7% from many years in the double digits, largely due to initiatives by the Riley-created Black Belt Action Commission.

Notice that Riley made his recovery, and achieved his ascendancy, by attending to those “three Es,” which are the governmental equivalents of blocking and tackling in football — i.e., the “boring stuff.” But doing the boring stuff right eventually gets noticed, because it gets real results.

I don’t suppose Yellowhammer State residents (yes, that IS the state’s nickname) would consider letting Riley migrate to Ohio, would they?

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