From the State House
Last year's presidential contest was one of the most interesting, exciting, and historic in years.
It was a dream year for a political columnist and commentator. It made columns and speeches easy. Last year, in talks with groups around the state, I discussed the presidential race and the open congressional seats.
At the end of each talk, I opened the floor to questions. Invariably, the first question asked was not about the presidential race, but was "who is running for governor in 2010."
Alabamians simply love the governor's race.
Well get ready because the roll out will begin in earnest this year. You will begin seeing early announcements between now and June. The race officially starts in mid June when the bell rings for fundraising to begin. Our campaign laws allow candidates to begin raising money one year prior to the election and the primaries are in June of 2010.
Two or three aspirants could not wait until 2009 to announce their intentions and pronounced their entry during the 2008 election cycle.
Tim James, a Greenville businessman and son of former Gov. Fob James, has not only announced but has been campaigning full-time for almost a year. After a dismal showing in the 2002 GOP primary, he has decided that the early bird gets the worm. James has a staff in place and is busy traveling the state. He supposedly has made a lot of money on a toll road he built in Baldwin County during his father's administration. If so, he will be able to self finance his campaign.
Another prospective gubernatorial hopeful has made it clear that she also has her own money and plans to spend it on a 2010 race. State Treasurer Kay Ivey gave $1 million to her campaign account in 2008 and boldly and unequivocally said she is running for higher office in 2010. She knows that in big time politics money talks and everything else walks.
Democratic Congressman Artur Davis of Birmingham waltzed to reelection to his fourth term in November. In six short years in Congress, he has catapulted to a remarkable rise in power and prestige. At 40 years old he has a golden career ahead of him in Washington. Davis has remarkable similarities to Barack Obama. Both are Harvard educated and they are close friends. Davis was Obama's campaign chairman in Alabama.
During 2008 Davis made no secret of the fact that he wants to and probably will run for Governor of Alabama in 2010. He aspires to become the first African American governor of the state known as the Heart of Dixie.
It would be a long shot proposition and would end his stellar career in Congress. However, he appears undeterred in his quixotic Don Quixote quest.
Political writers assume that the $1 million in Davis' federal war chest can be used as seed money for a governor's race. This is a misnomer. You cannot commingle federal campaign and state campaign dollars.
However, there are clandestine, circuitous ways to transfer the money. Bob Riley used this trick in 2002. He donated all of his federal campaign dollars accumulated during his six years in Congress to the National Republican Governor's Association Campaign Committee and they in turn gave that money to Riley's campaign for governor. Davis could use the same maneuver.
There are other big names who are holding their cards closer to their vest. On the Republican side, Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Junior College Chancellor Bradley Byrne, Mobile Congressman Jo Bonner, and businessman Jimmy Rane, known for his "Yellow Fellow" ads, are rumored to be in the race.
All four will probably show their hands one way or the other by June.
The main question is whether the biggest marquee fish Jim Folsom, Jr. will be a player in the 2010 governor's race. Folsom enjoys his post as Lt. Governor and may opt to stay another term. Two other more low profile Democrats, House Speaker Seth Hammett and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, will be watching Folsom's move as it may dictate their decisions.
The race for the big show is on and it will be fun to watch. It is not only the big race, but it will be wide open because Gov. Bob Riley's two-term, eight year constitutional limit ends in 2010.
I will keep you posted on this two-year horserace.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.