Last day of session productive one for Governor Siegleman

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2000

To quote the governor himself, "They said it couldn't be done…but we did it."

Those were the words of a beaming Gov. Don Siegelman after the Legislature on a remarkably productive final day of the regular session passed the two bills he most wanted-legislation to raise the pay of teachers to the national average by 2008, and an amended tenure law which will make it easier to rid the schools of incompetents-teachers and principals.

What happened which brought these bills back from near death? A weekend of high-powered negotiations between opposing camps…a weekend of compromising…a weekend of trade-offs.

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What it was was a classic example of the way politics is played. What is that old truth? Politics is the art of compromise.

In the end it boiled down to Siegelman's finest hour since becoming governor. His first year was highlighted by the crushing rejection given to his lottery by the voters. The year 2000 will go down in his book as a very good year.

Ironically, while Siegelman was the biggest winner (with the possible exception of AEA lobbyist Paul Hubbert), it seemed only right that Lt. Gov. Steve Windom had reason to be pleased as well.

Like Siegelman, 1999 was not a good year for him. He was so badly abused by the governor and Democratic Senate majority that some recommended he be given a handicapped parking space.

But when the 2000 session came down to the final hours, Windom scored huge points with his conservative constituency by killing two bills-the proposed tax cut for the dog track owners and a bill which sought to set up a compensation commission to raise the pay of state officials, including legislators. He was also the key player in burying a couple of legislative pay raise resolutions which appeared in the final hour.

If anything, Windom's role in the defeat of the dog track tax and pay raise proposals may prove as politically valuable to him as the Siegelman's legislative victories were to him.

As always, several bills that needed to be passed did not make it. Most important of those that died was legislation to authorize lethal injection as an alternative method of capital punishment in Alabama.

With it all but certain that the electric chair will be ruled unconstitutional, the failure of the lethal injection bill to pass could lead to long delays in carrying out death penalties in Alabama. In fact, that was the admitted purpose of some of the opponents–to outlaw capitol punishment.

And for the umpteenth time a bill to require voters to show some type of identification card when they go to vote died on the final day. Black legislators have historically opposed the voter ID bill, contending it would discourage many blacks from voting.

Another major bill to pass…and it too was a classic example of compromising and trade-offs…was a measure to change the method of selecting trustees for Auburn University.

If approved by the voters in November, this measure will add two new at-large seats to the board and remove the ban against out-of-state trustees. In addition it imposes term limits of no more than two consecutive seven year terms.

This bill passed after its supporters agreed not to start World War III in the Senate when Gov. Siegelman appointed his close political ally, Jack Miller of Mobile, to the Auburn board.

Miller is chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, he is the personal lawyer for controversial Auburn trustee Bobby Lowder…and he never attended a class at Auburn in his life. His undergraduate degree is from Duke, his law degree from Alabama.

The net effect of this legislation is that while changes will come in the Auburn board they will not come for years.