Monday, October 1, 2007

Turnham: Annual home appraisals to have ripple effects

(Originally published 9/29/07)

Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham returned Wednesday from Washington, where he huddled with party leaders about, among other things, Alabama’s Second Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Terry Everett (R-Rehobeth) touched off a political feeding frenzy when he announced this week that he will not seek re-election in 2008.

Turnham said that although political observers regard Alabama as a red state, Democrats ran well in 2006, demonstrating that "underneath, it’s still a blue state." Also:

• Turnham said he doesn’t expect Gov. Bob Riley to call a special session on ethics reform, but if he does, "Democrats are going to come with a full package of ethics bills," including a bill Riley vetoed earlier this year that would expand registration requirements for anyone lobbying the governor. Some consensus is building around a PAC-to-PAC transfer ban and other issues, Turnham said, but Senate Republicans will have to work with Democrats for anything to pass.

• The annual property reappraisal system Riley initiated with an executive order is having ripple effects, Turnham said. For example, he said, the recent defeats of millage rate increases for education in Auburn, Opelika and Lee County were a "pushback" against property taxes, which are already climbing because of increasing real estate values. "The governor does not need a special session to deal with annual reappraisals of property taxes," Turnham said. "In the view of this party chair, he could do it with a stroke of the pen." But, he said, reappraisal and insurance availability issues are so critical that they may trump ethics reform if Riley does call a special session.

• Democratic infighting in the Alabama Senate "really wasn’t as much philosophical as there were some deep-seated personal issues, some things that were done and said that perhaps shouldn’t have been done and said," Turnham said. "But I do think there’s been some hat-in-hand humility and some outreach to each other on a personal level." As a result, he estimates that Democrats are now within one vote of having the 21 they need for cloture. Turnham blames Riley for the feud: "A lot of the ill will and the bad feeling results from the way the governor got heavily involved, more than any governor in Alabama history, in trying to organize the Senate away from a duly elected majority of Democrats," Turnham said. "In doing that, he inflamed some personal feelings on the Democratic side." Now a lame duck, Riley should engage his own caucus and encourage them to work with Democrats, Turnham said.

• Moving Alabama’s presidential primary to Feb. 5 "has meant a great deal," Turnham said, considering Alabama has had dozens of visits from presidential candidates. "I’m real confident that it’s been a good debate and people have been energized by it," he said. If the election were held today, Turnham said he would expect Hillary Clinton to win the primary and Barack Obama and John Edwards to earn delegates.

• As a longtime political activist and two-time congressional candidate, Turnham said he’s "made enough political sausage to fill up about 10 Zeigler trucks … Not all of it’s been fun and pleasant, but I hope it leaves Alabama and the world better," he said. People encourage him to consider various races, he said, but he wants to build a career outside of politics. "I feel like I have a great impact behind the scenes," he said. For now, Turnham said, he is content with managing his party’s "pretty good bullpen of people" and fulfilling his state, regional and national political commitments. But, he added, "You never say never."

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