Thursday, November 04, 2010

Interesting Days Ahead

If you live out of state (like me), you may not have heard yet that the Alabama legislature flipped decisively from Democrat to Republican in Tuesday's elections. That change, after nearly 140 years of Democratic majorities, could have a profound effect on Auburn University in the next couple of years.

Bear with me, folks. This is not a political post, although politics certainly plays a part in the story.

As anybody with even cursory access to the media knows, for the last 30-odd-years, the Auburn Board of Trustees has been dominated by Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder, resulting in (to be polite) no small amount of controversy. Former governor Fob James attempted to replace Lowder in 1995, when one of Lowder's many terms expired.

Lowder successfully clung to his seat, in large measure thanks in to the aid of then-state senate president pro tem Lowell Barron, himself an on-and-off-again Auburn trustee. Barron repeatedly refused to allow the required senate confirmation vote for James' appointees, allowing Lowder the opening he needed to hang on to his seat. Lowder was eventually re-appointed to another 12-year term in 1999 by "Dirty Don" Siegleman, whose campaign he'd lavishly supported. Barron continued to act as a "gate guard" for Auburn board appointees over the last decade.

All that's over as of this coming January. Barron was defeated in his umpteenth run for reelection, and his party was decisively thrown out of the majority for the next Legislature. That's a very big deal for AU, since no the terms of seven of the eleven appointed members of the Board (the sitting governor is the twelfth member) expire in 2011. Two more appointments expire in 2012.

With Barron out of the legislature and Lowder legally barred from another term (to say nothing of having lost his bank in the financial crash), things are going to be very, very different for the Board of Trustees over the next dozen-plus years. An entirely new legislature whose power brokers are unknown quantities at this point throws even more chaos into the issue. Add to that the fact that the new governor who'll be appointing all those trustees is not, to put it mildly, an Auburn man.

The times, they are about to change. Better? Worse? Heck if I know. But we're all going to find out very soon. Two current board members' terms expire on February 9, 2011.

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