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<p>Proponents of Gov. Bob Riley's tax-and-accountability plan got some unexpected, almost surreal, good news last week when the head of the Christian Coalition of America came to Alabama to endorse the proposal.
It was unexpected because the Alabama branch of that conservative religious organization has been in the forefront of the opposition. </p>
<p>There was some muttering about out-of-state folks trying to influence Alabama's elections, but it couldn't be said too loudly because Riley's opponents had already trotted out former-congressman-turned-lobbyist Dick Armey of Texas to promote their agenda.
But, in truth, the skirmishing among the organizations that support or oppose Riley doesn't make enough difference to change the basic facts: It's a month from the Sept. 9 election and even the most optimistic of Riley's supporters knows there's a double-digit lead by the opponents to overcome. </p>
<p>Part of that can be linked to the nasty (though not really by Alabama standards) and misleading television ads taking potshots at the plan. The opponents are better funded at this point and have gotten the jump on the TV market, though in recent days some forceful ads by the plan's supporters have surfaced. </p>
<p>And part of opposition - perhaps most of it - centers on the fact that many Alabamians never met a tax they liked, even one that would help the state improve education and state services and make Alabama a bigger player in the nation's economic life while improving the quality of life here. </p>
<p>But some of it can be traced to the fact that Riley has spent much of the time since the Legislature authorized the up-or-down vote on his proposal on Sept. 9 rallying the troops and preaching to the choir - in other words, talking primarily to folks already in his camp. </p>
<p>Riley spokesman David Azbell acknowledged that last week, saying "We're going to take him (Riley) off (Interstate) 65" to the Wiregrass and Black Belt where support is low, even though many residents of those areas would benefit most from the plan.
And rather than speaking to groups of teachers and state employees, Riley, on Thursday, held a town meeting at Flomaton High School to explain his proposal. He's done this before and it's highly effective. </p>
<p>The governor is, indeed, the program's most ardent advocate. Anyone who has seen him propound it knows he brings a passion and commitment to it rarely seen in state, or even national, politics. </p>
<p>One of the most telling aspects of his advocacy is its religious fervor. The governor doesn't seek to proselytize or draw sectarian distinctions. Instead, he offers the simple religious message that Alabama's tax system is morally bankrupt. And he means it.</p>
<p>Because of his ability to champion his proposal, you read report after report of skeptics hearing Riley and viewing his proposal with different minds. One on one, his powerful message and the sincerity of his belief ring true.
And that points the way for overcoming the lead the opponents have built against the plan. </p>
<p><b>A broader medium </b></p>
<p>The governor needs to have a statewide town meeting, perhaps as long as two hours, that is televised, and let's him answer critics in the audience or callers to the show.
Think the proposed tax is too high? Ask him about it.
Believe there's not enough accountability in the package? Let him explain. </p>
<p>Afraid the Legislature is going to use any extra money for pork projects? The governor can show you the safeguards.
Bob Riley can't visit every town, every organization, every neighborhood before the election. Television - live television with enough time to explain the program, not just offer sound bites - is the best chance the governor has of carrying the day. </p>
<p>If his advisors haven't booked the time yet, they need to make that a top priority.