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No interest in VP race, Riley says

By Phillip Rawls
AP Political Writer

MONTGOMERY — Bob Riley adds the title of “two-term governor” on Monday. But with potential presidential candidate John McCain attending the inauguration, Riley is trying to stymie speculation that he wants to trade his new title for “vice presidential candidate” next year.

Riley says he is not interested in running a national campaign in 2008 or leaving the governor’s office before the end of his new four-year term.

“This sounds so hokey I hate to even say it, but Alabama truly is positioned to do something that is incredible, and I can’t think of a better way to spend four years than to finally be able to make all the education reforms we can, develop a new ethical standard, and watch this state continue to grow in a way it has never grown before,” Riley said in an interview.

First lady Patsy Riley is even more emphatic. She said she has missed too many soccer games and trips to the zoo with her six grandchildren, and after four more years in Montgomery, grandchildren will be the focus for her and her husband.

“When people say what are you going to run for next, I say the soccer field,” she said.

David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at The University of Alabama, said Riley does not appear to be an “overly ambitious” politician. But he said, “Politicians are like football coaches. They say they don’t want the job until they take it.”

Riley and McCain visited U.S. troops in Iraq early last year. Then as McCain’s presidential aspirations grew, he donated $10,000 to Riley’s re-election campaign and stumped across the state in October to help the Republican governor win a second term.

During that tour, the Arizona senator called Riley a friend and lavished him with the kind of adjectives that politicians like to hear. Reporters asked questions about whether Riley might become a running mate, but both men dodged them.

Speculation popped up again at Riley’s victory party on Nov. 7, when some supporters held up signs saying “President” and “2008.”

Now, the talk is heating up again with McCain planning to be on the Capitol steps Monday when Riley takes the oath of office for a second term.

“The senator believes Governor Riley has been a strong leader in Alabama that has instituted reform policies that have grown the economy, invested in education and fought to protect families,” McCain spokesman Danny Diaz said Friday.

Lanoue said he suspects McCain’s main reason for visiting Alabama again is to build support for the state’s early presidential preference primary, but the visit gives him another opportunity to get to know Riley.

“Is the vice presidency on McCain’s mind when he comes down here? Sure,” Lanoue said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham, who lost a congressional race to Riley in 1998, said he believes “the Riley team is looking at national politics.”

He said Riley’s three terms in the U.S. House combined with his two terms as governor make him an attractive figure, and he would provide geographic balance to a western candidate like McCain or a northeastern candidate like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

A Riley resignation to move to Washington would be a boost for Turnham’s party because Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. would move up to the governor’s office.

When reporters bring up presidential politics, Riley tries to quiet the talk by recounting his goals for his new term.

They include, he says:

  • Raising Alabama’s income tax threshold for a second time.
  • Removing the state income tax from the first $10,000 of taxable retirement income.
  • Giving workers a tax break for returning to school to learn new skills.
  • Providing a tax break to help small businesses provide health insurance to their employees.
  • Putting distance learning labs and offering at least eight Advanced Placement courses in every Alabama high school, no matter how small or how remote.
  • “The disparity between the best education and the worst education is just too wide in this state. We have the technology and the know-how to level the playing field,” he said.

    Riley’s tax breaks and spending plans would affect taxes dedicated to Alabama’s public schools and teachers’ pay.

    And that means his second term will be similar to his first. He will have regular battles with Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association and vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

    “The governor’s agenda is going to have problems with cutting money from schools,” Hubbert said.

    “When people say this is going to hurt education, it’s exactly the opposite,” Riley said.

    He said the tax breaks will stimulate the economy, create more jobs and provide even more tax revenue for public schools.

    When the governor’s battles with Hubbert and others are over and his term comes to an end, Riley said, he wants to return to his farm in Ashland.

    “Politics is exciting and I enjoy it. But the life we had back in Clay County was something that meant a lot to both Patsy and myself,” he said.

    And is there any interest in moving into the home at One Observatory Circle in Washington when Dick Cheney moves out?

    “No,” he said.

    Bob Riley

    Party: Republican

    Date of birth: Oct. 3, 1944 (62)

    Hometown: Ashland

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from The University of Alabama in 1965.

    Professional experience: Cattle rancher; former owner of Midway Transit trucking company in Ashland, a Ford car dealership and a poultry business.

    Political experience: Served one term on Ashland City Council from 1972-76; ran unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 1976; elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in 1996 and re-elected in 1998 and 2000; elected governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

    the associated press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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