Neither is Stan Pate.
Or gubernatorial candidate Bill Johnson.
Or, for that matter, any of the Bob Riley-hatin’, pro-gamblin’, it’s-time-for-someone-else promotin’ Alabamians who are ready for another warm body to sit atop Goat Hill.
Bob Riley isn’t one of the worst governors in the United States.
So says the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan watchdog group that some consider sane. Of course, that doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you’re one of the aforementioned Riley haters, so take it for what it’s worth.
But don’t summarily discount the notion.
Oh, let’s be honest. Riley’s a cool character who performed political CPR by recovering from the disastrous Amendment 1 vote in 2003. His support of public education initiatives has been honorable. His call for statewide ethics reform remains spot-on. His track record for recruiting international industry to Alabama deserves commendation.
Perhaps his best attribute is what he isn’t: in jail or on trial or a proud holder of a prison record.
In other words, he’s not a reincarnation of the late Guy Hunt or any others from the long line of Alabama politicians who’ve brought shame on this fine state.
Sure, there are people in Alabama who want to see the governor’s ship in flames. Riley’s final months in office have been some of his rockiest in Montgomery.
Johnson, a former Riley Cabinet member, has made ethics allegations against him. McGregor, the omnipotent gambling baron, is no fan of the governor’s early morning bingo-hall raids. Pate, the prominent Tuscaloosa businessman, was driven to pay for a banner that flew over the Rose Bowl before the University of Alabama’s national championship game in January. Remember its words? “Impeach Corrupt Alabama Governor Bob Riley.” And the state Ethics Commission has also recently received a complaint against Riley from a former state Republican Party official — a complaint the governor considers “frivolous,” his spokesman said.
Thus far, nothing has stuck.
Not that it won’t, of course.
Until then, Riley’s not on CREW’s list of the 11 worst gubernatorial rogues. And I’ll say, even if Pate and McGregor and Johnson are partially right about Alabama’s soon-to-depart two-term governor, it’d be hard for him to crack into this unhallowed collection.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford dreamed up a cockamamie story about hiking on the Appalachian Trail so he could jet off for a rendezvous with his Argentinean girlfriend.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who toyed with the idea of transforming his state back into a Republic, saw 17 of his former aides become lobbyists, CREW claims.
Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons was caught sending 867 text messages on a state-owned cell phone in a six-week period in 2007 to his alleged mistress, the nonprofit’s report said. One morning, between midnight and 2, he sent her 91 texts.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, once the flavor of the month of the national GOP, allegedly appointed at least 200 campaign contributors to state offices.
New York Gov. David Paterson has been under fire for allegedly pressuring a domestic violence victim to stay silent.
All told, CREW claims that seven of the governors on its worst 11 list are being investigated by state ethics commissions, nine are subject to federal or state investigations, and three failed to disclose in-kind contributions. There’s more, but you get the drift.
On and on it goes.
Corruption in state politics — regardless of the state — is as old as dirt; CREW’s breaking no new ground. Nevertheless, it’s a sad testament to American politics that another round of governors, some Republicans, some Democrats, has been outed for everything from blatant cronyism to sexual liaisons on taxpayers’ expense to outrageous political favoritism.
So count your blessings, Alabamians.
For once, this oft-maligned state is not among a national index listing the worst, the most fraudulent, the most deficient or the most inept. Hip-hip, hooray.
Instead, we’re apparently normal. Our governor’s liked by some, abhorred by others. He has lifelong friends and entrenched enemies. There are some who’d do anything — fly a banner over the Rose Bowl — to see him retire early to Clay County.
Of course, if you ask McGregor or Pate or Johnson, they’d say CREW’s compilation is wrong, that Riley is among the worst of the worst.
Hmm, I wonder. Would the good people of, say, South Carolina trade us straight up, Sanford for Riley? Consider that, Alabama.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor.