Political infighting sees the governor do his own thing

First it was the governor of Kentucky leaving his Attorney General out of the loop in organising the Great Online Gambling Domain Hi-jacking through outsourced lawyers; this week it's Alabama's governor doing his own thing in forming a gambling task force despite legal objections from his attorney general.

The latest autocratic gubernatorial move came after Alabama governor Bob Riley and his AG, Troy King, had a difference of opinion over Alabama's gambling laws.

The governor told media that King believes there are loopholes that permit electronic gambling machines in some locations, but that as governor he considers many of these to be illegal slot machines.

"I believe what is going on in many of these halls all over the state is illegal," Riley said at a news conference in the Capitol this week when announcing his new sans-AG task force.

Attorney General King said later that he and the governor are both opponents of gambling, but that even governors must abide by state law on gambling.

"We are constrained not by how I would like the law to be, but by how the law is," King said in an interview.

Undeterred, Riley has created a special task force to investigate gambling operations statewide... and, acing out his AG, he has picked a veteran anti-gambling prosecutor to lead it.

Riley bypassed state Attorney General King to create the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, which will be headed by former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber. Riley initially appointed King in 2004.

Commenting on the formation of the task force, King reminded voters that his office had helped shut down more than 30 illegal gambling operations without the need for assistance from the governor's office.

"Fighting illegal gambling is expensive and time-consuming. I wish all these resources becoming available now had been available earlier," King said.

Troubled by economic pressure on state finances, some Alabama legislators have discussed expanding gambling and levying state taxes, but Riley said he will oppose that when the Legislature convenes February 3.

Barber is not unqualified to run the new task force. He spent 24 years as the district attorney in Birmingham, and successfully fought electronic games that offered $5 gift certificates to winners. In 2006, he won a case in the Alabama Supreme Court that shut down video sweepstakes games at the Birmingham dog track.

In six years as governor, Riley has appointed many task forces to study issues and recommend solutions, but he is taking a new approach by creating a task force headed by a prosecutor who has backup from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Riley said Barber retains legal authority as a "supernumerary" district attorney who can be called back into service by the governor. He said Barber will have statewide authority and can bring civil or criminal actions.

Barber said he will work with local district attorneys and sheriffs, some of whom already have court cases pending over the legality of bingo operations in their counties.

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