Bentley will need spoonful of sugar

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2011

It was almost a year ago that the Alabama Press Association had all of the candidates for governor on the same podium in Birmingham for a forum. Seven men and one woman; six Republicans and two Democrats. At the time, Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis were assumed to be the frontrunners. I’d never seen Dr. Robert Bentley and knew very little about him.

As I listened to the eight talk about issues ranging from gambling to lotteries to education to right to life, it became clear that there were two candidates willing to reach across party lines and make the right decisions for Alabama.

One of those two was a dark horse last February. Monday afternoon, we’ll call him “Gov. Bentley.”

While he’s appointed mostly Republicans to his cabinet, he did indeed reach across the proverbial aisle to tap our own Seth Hammett as the state’s top recruiter, naming him director of the Alabama Development Office. For the past eight years, Bentley, a Republican, has served with Hammett, a conservative Democrat, in the Alabama House.

The new governor may have to pry the reins of state out of the hands of Bob Riley, who was still making appointments of his own yesterday afternoon. Many consider his calling of a special legislative session on ethics reform in December a slap in the face of the new governor, who handled it graciously no matter what he thought.

With his charming “Alabama needs a doctor” message, he wooed us to trust him. It will be interesting to learn what he prescribes for our future. Yesterday, it was reported that he likely will declare proration “in a few weeks.” It’s one of the few powers Riley, who should have declared proration on Oct. 1, was anxious to leave to his successor. Bentley may be forced to prorate the general fund budget by as much as 12.5 percent and the education budget by 2.5 percent.

Remember when Newt Gingrich became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Republicans took over that body for the first time in 40 years in part because of the Contract with America? A word used often then was “draconian,” with the speaker calling for “draconian (i.e., severe) cuts” in federal spending.

All things old are new again. Alabama pundit Steve Flowers wrote this week that the state’s newly Republican legislature will be forced to make draconian cuts to balance the education and general fund budgets.

Whether Bentley emerges as a leader with answers to the state’s problems or simply governs the best he can with what the legislature gives him remains to be seen.

Remember, the new governor is a doctor. And most of us find what the doctor prescribes for better health unpleasant at best and often downright distasteful.

Perhaps Dr. Bentley will give us a spoonful of sugar to make the tough medicine go down.