Lt. Governors don't do well in race for top job
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY-With it likely that the contest for lieutenant governor will be one of the most spirited in the 2006 election, allow this history buff to give you a little background on that office.
It would not be incorrect to say that the office has had a checkered career.
Our founding fathers didn't think such an office was necessary. It was not until the Constitutional Convention in 1868…the Reconstruction Constitution…that the office of lieutenant governor was created.
It didn't survive very long. When white Democrats regained control of the state in 1875 they immediately called a new constitutional convention and one of the first acts of the delegates was to abolish this "Yankee created" position.
Thirty one years later…in 1901…another constitutional convention was called, its chief purpose to disenfranchise black voters. But another development at that time was to focus new interest on the office of lieutenant governor.
In 1900, William J. Samford of Opelika was elected governor, but shortly thereafter he became gravely ill. It was evident that Samford was dying. (A sidebar to this story: On inauguration day James was so ill that he was administered the oath of his office in his bed in his home in Opelika.)
What this meant was that the man elected president pro tem of the Senate would soon become governor. That a handful of senators would elect the governor provoked howls of protest from many sides including the press.
Would it not be better to restore the office of lieutenant governor with the understanding that he would be first in line of succession in the event of a vacancy in the office of governor? That was the question posed by many.
Minutes of the debate during that 1901 Convention indicate the strong feelings of some to the re-establishment of this office. Still fresh on the minds of many of the delegates was the "recent unpleasantness:"-the War Between the States-and some of them warned that the voters would reject the entire Constitution if the office of lieutenant governor was re-created.
Others objected because they feared the office would be used as a stepping stone, a springboard to the office of governor.
However, the ugliness which came from the fight for president pro tem of the Senate persuaded the convention delegates to create the office again and the constitution was subsequently ratified by the voters.
Interestingly, those who feared that the office would be used as a springboard to the office of governor were both right and wrong. They were right that countless lieutenant governors would run for governor from that office but they were wrong in thinking they would run successfully.
Only two incumbent lieutenant governors have been elected governor since 1901. Thomas Kilby of Anniston turned the trick in 1918 and Don Siegelman in 1998. Buck's Pocket…the assisted living home for defeated politicians…is filled with lieutenant governors who ran for governor and lost.
In 1999, the State Senate…led by retiring Lt. Gov. Siegelman…made dramatic changes in the responsibilities of the holder of this office, giving most of the power to the president pro tem of the senate. Siegelman, about to be inaugurated as governor, did not want his successor-Republican Steve Windom–to have the enormous power he had.
Despite the dilution of power of the office you can be sure there will be no shortage of candidates running for lieutenant governor next year.
And a final sidebar to this history lecture–Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley in 2006 hopes to become the third occupant of that office to be promoted by the voters to the office of governor. If you can believe the polls, she may be successful.
There was a time when this event…which attracted high school teenagers from all 50 states…was the premier event in our state. But a loss of sponsorship coupled with a loss of its national TV coverage was too much to bear. When the curtain falls on June 28 for the 2005 event it will not be raised again.
At its prime the AJM attracted facecard hosts…Michael Landon and Ed McMahon, to mention a couple…and several of its winners went on to fame and fortune: Diana Sawyer, ABC newscaster; Kathie Lee Gifford of the "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" show; Debra Messing of the TV hit "Will and Grace" and Academy Award winning actress Kim Basinger.
Since the AJM program was launched in 1958 more than $87 million in scholarships have been awarded to the contestants.