It was standard reconnaissance: Find jobs, recruit jobs, secure jobs, bring jobs back to Alabama.
Go get 'em, Bob.
But he made a big mistake.
He should have offered Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks seats on the plane — at the state's expense.
These guys, Republican Bentley and Democrat Sparks, want to be governor. Six months ago, they were longshots of the worst kind. Bentley was a state legislator and retired dermatologist who couldn't raise much campaign cash. Sparks was the state ag commissioner who had to shave his moustache to get on the front page. Some people will do anything for attention.
One of them will be sworn in next year as Riley's successor.
Which is why Riley should have let these guys tag along on his latest European excursion. Call it a high-level political internship. They need to see this version of the art of gubernatorial politics — it's nothing like the smelly stuff that goes on atop Goat Hill.
Imagine what the soon-departing governor could have told his understudies during the interminable transatlantic flight:
"Gentlemen, thanks for coming along on such short notice. I know how campaigning is; it's worse than tiring. I'm glad I don't have to go through that mess anymore. I'm going fishing from now on. But I love Alabama, and whoever wins that November election has to keep this train rolling.
"Now, guys, this governor thing is all about jobs. And, trust me, there are jobs in other countries. Good-paying jobs that those newspaper know-it-alls will praise you for. These companies are dying to find spots in the United States where they can build factories. They want things, and they're tough to please: Interstates help. Ports are important. Local politicians who stay out of their way are good. And state governments that can make it all happen, too.
"Robert, pay attention. This isn't like opening another doctor's office. That's not what we're talking about here. Got it?
"And Ron, I know you're a Democrat, and you guys think your economic ideas are better than everyone else's, but lemme tell you something. Go back to Montgomery and try running the state with double-digit unemployment and no plan for creating jobs. You'll get crucified. You better believe me on this, Ron. I know what I'm talking about.
"Here's how you do it: Don't hop on a plane without doing your homework. You'll have a staff; make those people work. Listen to Neal Wade at the Alabama Development Office; he's gold. Find out what you need to know about the guys you're dealing with. Say their names right. Don't embarrass us, in other words. And remember this main thing:
"Every governor worth his salt is trying to do the same thing you're doing — they're trying to bring home jobs, and not those $7-an-hour jobs at McDonald's. Haley Barbour's been doing that for years next door. Georgia gets a bunch because of Atlanta; that's just the way it is. Everyone's doing it. You'd better be on top of your game, and quick.
"Look, it's fairly simple. Tell 'em the truth, just make it sound really good. It's not lying. Tell 'em about Alabama: Our weather's great, our State Docks are some of the best around, our land's available, our unions are weak, our interstates our fast, and our workers are trainable; some are job-ready. Oh, and we'll do our part, too. Need a tax rebate? A road built? Incentives that'll make our offer better than Mississippi's or Tennessee's or Georgia's?
"While you're at it, have your staff hand out the phone numbers of a couple of CEOs. Get 'em to call the guy who runs Thyssen-Krupp down near Mobile. And the Honda man in Lincoln. And the head of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance. Get those folks to help you — Lord knows we've helped them for years. It's their turn, now.
"And one more thing:
"Don't be afraid to call Haley or Charlie Crist or Phil Bredesen and work a deal. Sometimes you gotta work with these guys on projects like this, even if it means the other state gets the big headline. As long as some of those jobs go to Alabamians, that's good by me.
"Got it, Robert? You listening, Ron? One of you guys will be doing this next year, and it'll look mighty bad if you have to ring me up in Ashland for advice."
Sure do wish Riley could have had that airborne chat with our governor wannabes.
Something tells me the state's next leader one day will wish he could pick up the phone and ask Riley: Tell me again, what'd you say was the best way to sell Alabama?
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star's commentary editor.