Voters crush Alabama tax hike proposal
By Bill Schneider
(CNN) -- The Soviet Union used to have purges whenever a communist official strayed from the party line. This is the United States though and purges here can be just as brutal.
But they're more democratic. Like the GOP purge -- make that, the GOP Play of the Week -- in Alabama this week.
How do you convince Alabama voters to approve a $1.2 billion tax hike? Maybe if there's a severe state fiscal crisis, and a conservative Republican governor like Bob Riley is leading the campaign.
The perfect storm.
"What's more important, prescription drugs or nursing home care? Because we're going to have to make some brutal decisions next week if this does not pass," said Riley.
It looked like Riley had support -- from teachers, business interests and legislative leaders. And, one would suppose, the loyalty of his party.
That's where Riley miscalculated.
"George Bush Sr. played this role in 1990. He raised taxes and was rejected by the party, the base and the electorate," said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
An anti-tax coalition comprised of angry property owners and preachers sprang into action. Remember the furor a few weeks ago over removing the Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court?
"I received a phone call over the weekend from the head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama saying that the very same people who took the monument out of the judicial building are now trying to raise your taxes," said political columnist Bob Ingram who has covered politics for 50 years.
And instead of supporting their governor, angry Republicans came out against him.
On Tuesday, Alabama voters rejected the tax plan by better than two to one. The perfect storm turned out to be the perfect shipwreck.
Conservatives intend to turn Riley's experience into an object lesson.
"We will be regaling little baby Republican governors in the future with scary ghost stories about what happens to Republican governors who decide to loot the people rather than to govern," said Norquist.
From anti-tax conservatives, the message to Republicans is clear: Threaten to raise taxes, and you could become the political PREY of the Week.
Riley has three years left to mend fences with Alabama voters.
One of the first things he did? Unveil a plaque depicting the Ten Commandments in the state capitol.