Amusing political stories abound after 50 years in business
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–This may come across as a bit immodest, but I got a nice communication award a few days ago which I suspect was based not on my talents but on my longevity.
It was 50 years ago this fall that I covered by first session of the Legislature.
To put it mildly, I have seen a lot of water go under the bridge or over the dam…however that expression goes.
No matter, this anniversary of sorts has prompted me to do a little personal reminiscing about those crazy, wonderful years I have spent trying to keep up with Alabama politics and Alabama politicians. I have had a blast, and here are a few of the highlights:
The biggest stories that come to mind: The murder of Atty. Gen.-nominee Albert Patterson…the Civil Rights movement which led to the registration of hundreds of thousands of black voters…the era of George Wallace…the emergence of the Republican Party as a factor in politics…the impact of television on political campaigns…and linked to that, the proliferation of political action committees. (Think about it–if it weren't for the deep pockets of the PACs the candidates couldn't afford to buy all that TV time.)
Certainly there have been some memorable elections. The biggest upset in a gubernatorial election: Fob James coming out of nowhere in 1978 to beat the "Three B's"–Bill Baxley, Jere Beasley and Albert Brewer. (A close second, unknown Congressman Bob Riley defeating Gov. Don Siegelman in 2002.)
Certainly the Baxley-Graddick fiasco in 1986 is in my memory bank, and linked to that was the election and subsequent removal from office of Gov. Guy Hunt…our first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
The most historically significant election of my 50 years? That's easy…the George Wallace-Albert Brewer ugliness in 1970. A Brewer victory would have ended what came to be called the Wallace Era.
After winning in 1970 Wallace went on to win two more terms. Had he lost that year, it is most unlikely he would have been heard from again.
The most memorable people to grace the Alabama political scene?
Certainly George Wallace has to top the list…four terms as governor in addition to electing his wife Lurleen as well. He tops the list by a mile.
But certainly on my list are Gov. James E. (Big Jim) Folsom, who on his best behavior was a far better governor than he receives credit…Congressman Carl Elliott of Jasper, a truly good and great man who was a victim of his own integrity…U. S. Sens. Lister Hill and John Sparkmen, who made dents on the national scene like few Alabamians.
As to stickouts among state legislators I have known, I would bet the farm that if I polled those few survivors who have been on the scene for decades to determine the most effective, most powerful legislator of the past half century, the vote would be unanimous: Rankin Fite of Marion. He goes so far back that I suspect many of you don't recognize his name.
A lot of powerful legislators have come and gone, but in my mind there was never one to equal Fite, who served two terms as Speaker of the House. He asked for no quarter and believe me he gave none.
There have been many lawmakers who walked with a big stick, but none bigger than Fite's.
And appropriately it was Fite who shared with me my all-time favorite stories. He was trying to persuade Gov. Big Jim Folsom to hire one of his preacher buddies as a chaplain at a prison road camp.
Fite went on at length telling Big Jim what a great preacher he was, how many souls he had saved. Finally Big Jim told Fite to shut up.
"Preacher," Big Jim boomed, "I got one question to ask you: Are you my kind of s- of a b– or their kind of s- of a b–?
"Governor," the preacher replied, "I'm your kind of a a s- of a b–."
He got the job.