Perhaps the better question is, what could be accomplished at a conference where most of those who should be there weren’t?
Of the 18 Southern governors who are members of the association, only six showed up — and not all were there the whole time.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, the organization’s chairman, was not disappointed, or at least he tried not to be. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to one (of these meetings) with over eight” governors present, he told the Associated Press.
Oh, some other people were there. Nearly 300 state officials, legislators and lobbyists showed up to rub shoulders, pick up information, attend meetings, eat and drink.
But only six governors.
The excuses given were good ones. Some governors were back home campaigning. A couple — Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour — were attending events commemorating the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But the others?
Maybe instead of a governor’s conference, the event should be a governor’s advisors and aides conference. At least that would be truth in advertising.
Maybe whoever picked the date should have considered other priorities such as campaigning and commemorations. Southern families set wedding dates based on football games, so why can’t governors look at the calendar and pick a date without obvious conflicts?
Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if they had.
At the conference, Riley did his best at what he does best — push the topic of the economy. He brought in Chinese officials, and at the conference’s best-attended session — all six governors were there — they talked of regional cooperation to promote trade between the South and the economic power in the Far East.
That is well and good.
But when BP officials showed up to talk about the oil spill in the Gulf, governors from states that are directly affected skipped the session. It could have been an excellent opportunity for Gulf Coast governors to come down hard on those in charge of the cleanup who have promised to “make it right.” Instead, it ended up lacking the force it might have had otherwise.
And what about the tri-state water war between Alabama, Florida and Georgia? Although it was a great opportunity, those states’ governors did not meet to talk it over. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was not there. If Riley and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue got together and hashed anything out, they did it behind closed doors.
Association meetings can be, and should be, a time for governors to gather and discuss regional issues — governors, not their representatives. And certainly not lobbyists.
As Riley gives up the chairmanship of the group this year, he should remind its members that this could be an organization that will benefit its represented states. However, to get the benefit, they need to take part.