Alabama Governor’s Race Is Must-See Politics

While it won’t have the national implications of some other races, Alabama’s governor’s race may well be the nation’s most interesting. It features an incumbent who has alienated his base, , an indicted former governor, woman who’s former husband was the first Democratic nominee to lose an Alabama governor’s race, an indicted former governor, and a former chief justice stripped of his office after taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Alabama Governor’s Race Is Must-See Politics (AP)

Photo: Candidates for Governor of Alabama in 2006 are shown these 2005 file photos. From top left are, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, Roy Moore, bottom left is Gov. Bob Riley, and former governor Don Siegelman. (AP Photo/File) The cast: A Republican incumbent who alienated his base with a proposal to raise taxes. A chief justice who lost his job over his Ten Commandments stand. A former governor under indictment. A lieutenant governor who helped her ex-husband run for governor. The show: Alabama’s gubernatorial primaries of 2006. In a state where George C. Wallace and James E. “Big Jim” Folsom made races for governor a must-watch event on the political stage, the current campaigns may be every bit as memorable.

On the Republican side, ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments crusader, is challenging Gov. Bob Riley, who is trying to rally his business backers after a failed $1.2 billion tax plan his first year in office. “It will be a classic clash between the church factor of the Republican Party and the business factor of the Republican Party,” said Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University.

On the Democratic side, the featured players are indicted former Gov. Don Siegelman and Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who is trying to become Alabama’s second female governor and the first elected in her own right. “She has the potential to siphon off some women who traditionally vote Republican,” said Charles Bullock, an expert in Southern politics at the University of Georgia.

Riley, 61, is trying to reverse a recent trend by Alabama voters, who have defeated incumbent governors in 1994, 1998 and 2002. He barely edged Siegelman in 2002 and took office when state government was facing its biggest budget deficit since the Depression. Then he angered many in his GOP base by proposing the biggest tax increase in state history, which voters rejected 2-to-1. But Riley has slowly rebuilt his standing as the economy rebounded, and he appeared authoritative and organized in response to Hurricane Katrina. “He recovered and showed himself a leader, particularly during Katrina,” said Byrdie Larkin, a political scientist at Alabama State University.

Moore, 58, will take a solid base into the Republican primary on June 6. “He’s a rock star of the Christian right,” said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama. Moore’s challenge, Lanoue said, is to show that he is not a one-issue candidate — not just the chief justice expelled in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order to move his Ten Commandments monument. He is trying to do that by attacking Riley’s failed tax increase, proposing new penalties for businesses that employ illegal aliens, and advocating term limits for legislators. “The big check writers and the country club Republicans are not going to vote for him, but the Wal-Mart Republicans will,” said Len Gavin, a Moore supporter and former state GOP executive director,

On the Democratic side, Siegelman, 59, is campaigning while battling a federal indictment accusing him of racketeering and conspiracy, including soliciting $1 million in cash and gifts in return for official actions. He is concerned he will not get a trial date allowing him to clear his name before the June 6 primaries. “I’m not worried about the charges, but I am concerned about the timing,” he said. Larkin said it will be difficult for Siegelman to build a winning coalition unless he is cleared before the vote. “The interest groups are not going to throw their support to a candidate who has hurdles to overcome,” she said.

Baxley, 68, is seeking to be the first woman elected governor of Alabama since Lurleen Wallace won in 1966 as a stand-in for her husband, George Wallace. She has name recognition partly because her ex-husband, Bill Baxley, was attorney general and lieutenant governor and made unsuccessful runs for governor in 1978 and 1986. They divorced after the 1986 race and she began her own political career, winning two terms as state treasurer, then getting elected lieutenant governor in 2002, each time covering the state with red bumper stickers proclaiming “I Love Lucy.” Her offices, however, have been primarily procedural, rather than policy-making. “If you ask Alabama voters what Lucy Baxley stands for, you’d have a hard time getting a substantive answer,” Lanoue said. “She’s going to have to create a definition for herself before her opponents do it for her.”

It should be interesting.

Lucy Baxley has the least baggage of the candidates. She is genuinely liked and most agree she did an effective job as State Treasurer, smartly investing the state’s money and cutting waste in her department. Given Siegelman’s indictment, one would think she’d sail to the nomination. Whether she has the gravitas to win the governorship is another matter.

I haven’t seen any recent polling on the Riley-Moore fight. Moore is going to be tough to beat, though. As much as I disagree with how he handled himself as Chief Justice, the man is genuinely popular in the state. I thought Riley’s tax reform plan was desperately needed but he showed incredible naivete trying to push through something that massive without having laid the groundwork for it during the campaign.

Update: While a poll from January gave Moore an 8 point lead, an October 18 poll showed Riley with a commanding lead.

A statewide poll shows GOP Gov. Bob Riley leading the two major Democratic candidates for governor as politicians begin hitting the campaign trail for the 2006 elections. In the Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll, Riley polled 46 percent to former Gov. Don Siegelman’s 31 percent. Riley tallied 44 percent to 33 percent for Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley. The remainder didn’t know or didn’t answer.

A Register-USA poll earlier in October showed Riley leading his Republican primary foe, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, 44 percent to 25 percent among Republican voters.

Some encouraging results.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Pace T-bird, I will venture a guess that Moore won’t win or even do all that well.

    Americans regard the judiciary with a strange mixture of ignorance and contempt. What’s acceptable in a chief justice won’t fly with a governor—because you know, being governor is a real job.

  2. davod says:

    You obviously like the lady. She is the only candidate with a half decent photograph.

  3. davod says:


    I listened to Judge Moore explain his legal reasoning behind what he did. It appeared as if he was on firm ground.

    I think he would shake up the state government.

  4. Anderson says:

    I listened to Judge Moore explain his legal reasoning behind what he did. It appeared as if he was on firm ground.

    Omigod. Of course it appeared that way—you were listening to his side of things.

    The 11th Circuit op slapping him down, hard, is readily available if you care to google it up. No, I’ll do better–here it is.

    He never had a leg to stand on in that case, & he cost the State of Alabama 100’s of 1000’s of $$$ defending his stupid actions.

  5. spaceman says:

    Riley will win the primary and be reelected easily.

  6. Azure says:

    Lucy Baxley is 68 and benefits from lots of makeup and plastic surgery in the above photograph.

    She has very little responsibility as Lt. Governor and has never demonstrated any inkling of leadership when it comes to taking on issues. Her speeches largely consist of her references to growing up on a farm in rural southeastern Alabama and her religious faith. Otherwise, there isn’t much she has to offer if she were to being elected, aside from being a reliable puppet for Paul Hubbert and the AEA.

    She keeps her ex-husband’s last name in spite of being divorced for 20 years. If she went by her current married name of Lucy Smith, rather than Baxley, would she be were she is today? I don’t think so.

    Alabama doesn’t need someone who runs on a last name, it doesn’t need someone who is continuously under indictment and it doesn’t need a one-trick (ten commandment) demagogue. It needs someone who has the guts to make tough calls against the establishment – and that one candidate of the four is Governor Bob Riley.