Bob Riley's eight-year reign as Alabama governor is, mercifully, almost over. The governor who came in on the heels of an apparent con--the mysterious overnight loss of votes for Democrat Don Siegelman--is going out with another.
The right-wing Alabama press is doing its darnedest to portray Riley as an ethical leader, unblemished by scandal. This for a governor with documented ties to Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, two of the most notorious political criminals in American history.
Even some intelligent Alabamians are buying the Riley-as-Gandhi storyline. That includes Wayne Flynt, a long-time history professor at Auburn University and one of the most respected progressive voices in our state. When someone like Wayne Flynt starts praising the likes of Bob Riley, it might be time to check the water supply for hallucinogens.
If Birmingham News reporter Kim Chandler is to be believed, here is what Wayne Flynt actually had to say about the Riley years:
Alabama historian Wayne Flynt said Riley raised the bar for how governors should behave and how their cabinets operate.
"Keep in mind the bar has been pretty low, but Riley was honest and ethical and he held his cabinet and staff responsible for how they did their jobs and behaved," Flynt said.
Flynt is right about one thing: The bar is pretty low. But the notion that Riley raised it is laughable.
Wayne Flynt did not suddenly become stupid. He almost certainly knows that Riley is a corrupt con man who presided over one of the worst economies in Alabama history. Flynt is a tenured professor at Auburn, and in theory, enjoys "academic freedom" to speak his mind in a truthful fashion. But Flynt probably knows that even a tenured professor can face serious consequences if he does not toe the conservative line in Alabama's higher-education system. Anyone who doubts that should check with UAB labor economist and historian Glenn Feldman.
Riley has been protected throughout his two terms by a lap-dog, right-wing press and friendly federal prosecutors. Some political observers have noted Riley's physical resemblance to Ronald Reagan. Like the "Gipper," Riley seems to benefit from an industrial-strength coating of Teflon. Consider this passage from a recent post about Riley's efforts to pass an "ethics" bill:
Throughout Riley's tenure, he has been protected by Leura Canary, a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney in Montgomery. But if historians ever uncover the truth about the Riley years, he probably will go down as the most corrupt governor in Alabama history. Powerful evidence suggests that Riley:
* Benefited from election-night vote theft in Baldwin County, Alabama, giving him a razor-thin edge over Democrat incumbent Don Siegelman in the 2002 election;
* Benefited from $13-million of Mississippi gaming money that was laundered through GOP felon Jack Abramoff;
* Benefited from millions of Mississippi Choctaw gaming money that was distributed directly to the Riley campaign, according to public statements from former aide Bill Johnson.
* Misspent more than $340,000, which was intended to help elect candidates and instead went to anti-gambling initiatives.
* Saw his term winding down in 2010 as a string of mysterious deaths cropped up on Alabama's political landscape.
A source has told Legal Schnauzer that a Riley presidential run is a real possibility, especially if the European Aerospace Defence and Space Co. (EADS) lands the $35-billion Air Force tanker contract that would include construction of a major facility in Mobile, Alabama. Given the jumbled nature of the GOP field--and the fact another Southerner, Mississippi's Haley Barbour, recently shot himself in the foot with clod-headed remarks about the days of segregation--Riley might have a legit chance, our source says.
That thought should send chills down the spine of every thinking American. Riley has enough baggage to sink the Lusitania. But folks who might have inside knowledge about the governor's operations have a curious habit of turning up dead.
For now, perhaps the best thing about Riley's exit is that we won't be subjected to the fawning photos of him The Birmingham News seems to run almost every day. Is it just me, or is Riley's picture in the paper about 10 times more often than those of previous governors? And I'm not talking just about Democratic predecessors, such as Don Siegelman. Even previous Republicans, such as Fob James and Guy Hunt, never received this kind of adoring treatment--at least not in my memory.
It's almost as if somebody at The Birmingham News has a massive man crush on Bob Riley. When Mrs. Schnauzer and I were in a darkly comic mood recently, we envisioned the paper's leaders gathered in a room, masturbating as they figured out which Riley photo to run that day. "Oh dear God, he's so white and gorgeous," one editor says. "And look at that incredible hair," says another. "Such a credit to our race--I mean state." "You know, he never dyes his hair. He has genes like Reagan! I think I'm feeling verklempt," says another.
(Sorry for the disturbing imagery, but we're going edgy and raw today at LS.)
Never mind that, when Riley opens his mouth, he sounds like Gomer Pyle. And never mind that Riley likely has been an illegitimate governor for years, the beneficiary of probable election theft. "I still refer to him as Congressman," a friend of ours says, "because that's the highest office to which he's been elected."
Riley is a white guy who looks like Reagan. And that's enough to make many Alabamians swoon. Perhaps that explains why our state is going nowhere fast.