Turnham elected democratic chief
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–There are certain stories from the political past which are forever engraved in my mind, and this Labor Day holiday brings to mind one of my favorites.
It was Labor Day, 1957, and a young George C. Wallace was already gearing up for his first and only losing race for governor. An absolute "must" event to attend was the annual Labor Day Celebration in Prichard, down near Mobile.
Thousands of union members and others gathered for this occasion, and any politician worthy of the name was always there. It was a riotous event…a lot of beer and booze was consumed, there were shouting matches between supporters of the various candidates…even a few fist fights.
(A sidebar: One year I am told a very enterprising woman who practiced the oldest of professions set up shop in a trailer near the picnic area and as discreetly as possible did a landslide business.)
But back to George Wallace. Those of you who remember him…who knew him…recall what a remarkable memory he had for names. He could meet someone and then years later when he saw them again he would call them by name. It was a remarkable skill.
More than once when someone commented to him about his incredible memory he would tell this story to assure them that his memory was not nearly as good as they thought.
It was at that aforementioned Labor Day event in Prichard where this happened.
As he told the story…and I heard him tell it a dozen times…he was handing out campaign literature to anybody and everybody he saw.
He approached a young boy no more than 10 or 12 years old, introduced himself, told him he was running for governor. He then handed him one of his brochures.
"Take this home to your Daddy and tell him to vote for me," Wallace told the youngster.
With a long face, the boy replied: "My Daddy is dead."
Wallace was of course taken aback, but he hugged the youngster around the shoulders, expressed his sympathy and suggested he give the brochure to someone else in his family.
Wallace continued to work the crowd all day, and late in the afternoon, as fate would have it, he encountered the same little boy…but he didn't recognize him
"Sonny, I am George Wallace and I am running for governor. Take this brochure home and tell your Daddy to vote for me."
With a perfectly straight face the youngster replied: "He's still dead."
Turnham takes over the reins of a party that…at least in statewide elections…is in shambles. While Democrats still control most of the courthouses and maintain a precarious but shrinking majority in the Legislature, the past two decades have been the worst of times for the party in statewide elections.
Four of the last five gubernatorial elections have been won by Republicans…a majority of the state offices are held by Republicans. It is Turnham's daunting task to turn this trend around.
In the eyes of many it has become the party of the liberals, the blacks and the unions (i.e., Paul Hubbert and the AEA). Changing that image before the 2006 election will be a herculean task. And speaking of that 2006 election, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that by the time many of you read this column…I am writing it on the last day of August…that Gov. Bob Riley will finally have made it official that he will seek a second term next year.
He scheduled a Labor Day barbecue at the Mansion where every indication is that he planned to make his intentions known. If he doesn't confirm this I will look silly. Not for the first time, I might add. I wrote some weeks ago that if Riley didn't run for a second term I would eat the paper my column was written on. I will make the same promise on this prediction.