Last month, voters gave George Bowman a second chance to make a first impression.
And he’s blowing this one even worse than the first.
As you’ll recall, Gov. Bob Riley appointed Bowman to the Jefferson County Commission after Larry Langford vacated the District 1 seat to become Birmingham mayor. A Republican governor appointing someone to a Democratic seat was trouble enough for the would-be politician, but he got the benefit of the doubt because, heck, he’s a honest-to-goodness general who plays chess as a pastime.
His resume said “brainiac with leadership skills,” but when he faced William Bell in a special election, voters said “no.”
Bowman came off as politically tone deaf. He allied himself with Bettye Fine Collins, whose political fortunes were also fading. At a time when Jefferson County was facing bankruptcy, he voted with his Republican colleagues to give $15,000 of taxpayer money to the Eagle Forum, Phillis Shafley’s ultra-conservative proto-Tea Party organization.
In politics, they say the loser plays checkers while the winner plays chess, but Geoge Bowman’s well-credentialed brain was playing hide and go seek. Bell beat Bowman soundly and took the commission seat.
But then came that second chance.
Larry Langford went to jail. William Bell went to City Hall. The District 1 seat was again open for a contender.
Because of a legal snafu, Bowman had to run for the seat twice this time — first to fill the remainder of the Langford-Bowman-Bell term that ends this November, and second to hold the seat for the next four-year term. He eked out both times, beating Birmingham City Councilor Johnathan Austin in two runoffs.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Last week, Birmingham News reporter Barnett Wright revealed that Bowman’s staff was already the highest paid among all the commissioners’ employees. Bowman argued that he hadn’t increased pay from Bell’s staff, which is almost as good of an argument as “everyone else is doing it.” Only everyone else isn’t doing it. At $73,000 a year, Bowman’s administrative assistant, Horace Huntley, is making just slightly less than Jim Carns’ whole staff, which gets paid $79,000 per year.
This would be a good time to mention that Huntley is also Bowman’s brother-in-law.
That was last week. Next week, should be even more fun.
Lame duck Commissioner Bobby Humphryes was already under fire for planning a trip to the Association of County Commissioners convention in Orange Beach later this month. Apparently Bowman thought the idea such a good one that he has proposed taking his entire staff on the taxpayer-paid junket.
Commissioners Humphryes and Carns approved putting the trips on the agenda next Tuesday, but already Bowman is getting blow-back from the public.
“He’s a brave man,” Commissioner Carns said after the meeting.
But is he a smart man? a reporter asked.
“He’s a brave man,” Carns repeated, this time with a chuckle.
Let’s hope Bowman learns something in Orange Beach. Come November, he’s the closest thing the Jefferson County Commission will have to an incumbent.
And he’s already playing that role quite well.