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Inside the Statehouse

 


When Guy Hunt won the Governor’s race over Bill Baxley in 1986 it was well publicized that he was a part-time Primitive Baptist preacher. He was also billed as a part-time Amway salesman. These common man vocations appealed to the average Alabama voter. It was Hunt’s calling as a Baptist preacher that resonated warmly with his constituency. Alabamians are very religious and very Baptist.

Hunt had done surprisingly well as governor for four years and turned back Paul Hubbert’s Democratic challenge for his reelection to a second term in 1990. He worked hard to have an agenda and get some of it accomplished. He had a reasonable expectation of accomplishment.

During much of his first term the state legislature languished in the throws of a war over tort reform. Alabama was a plaintiff trial lawyer’s paradise. Trial lawyers were getting unheard of fairyland judgments out of some of our rural counties. We were labeled “Tort Hell” by Time Magazine and it caught on. We were in the national spotlight again.

Hunt was solidly on the side of business, against the plaintiff lawyers. Hunt was diligent to court pro business legislators and even though he did not grasp all the intricacies of state government or budgets he was good at generalities.

However, Hunt had one Achilles heel that he should have avoided. He was prideful. Hunt was under the illusion that he had been elected governor on his own. He was not aware of the old Wallace adage that more Alabamians vote against someone than for someone. That was definitely the case in Hunt’s election. They did not know who Guy Hunt was. They were simply so mad at the Democratic Party for haughtily handpicking Bill Baxley over Charlie Graddick, when Baxley did not get the most votes, they would have voted for Mickey Mouse.

As a preacher Hunt should have known the old proverb, “pride goeth before a fall.” He had become careless and had never had any personal money. His salary as governor was the most money he had ever made in his life and he got greedy. Hunt used the state airplane to make trips to churches around the country and kept the offerings given to him for personal use. This was a violation of the Ethics Act.

A very Democratic and ambitious Attorney General, Jimmy Evans, went after Hunt with a vengeance and impeached him in the middle of his second term. Lt. Governor Jim Folsom Jr. moved up to governor in 1992. Folsom quickly went to work to get elected governor on his own. He got along well with the Democratic legislature. He passed bold incentive tax abatements to lure Mercedes.

The plan we offered Mercedes to come to Alabama was generous. Most national business publications said we simply bought the plant. Regardless of how we got them here, Folsom got the credit. We did receive a lot of positive reaction from mainstream national media. It made us proud that this premier automaker chose Alabama for its largest plant. Folsom seemed in good shape to be elected governor in 1994.

Paul Hubbert was itching for another shot at the brass ring and entered the Democratic Primary against Folsom. It was a tough and expensive primary, but Folsom prevailed. He was ready for battle in the general election. Guess who was coming to the battle, old Fob James, who had been elected governor as a Democrat in 1978 even though most people knew he was really a Republican. He ran a strong third in the Democratic Primary in 1990, receiving mostly conservative votes.

The Republicans had by now elected a governor and were holding primaries. Fob decided it was time that he came out of the closet and came home. Fob James was the Republican nominee to face Folsom in the November general election.

Just like four years earlier when Hubbert had been weakened in a Democratic brawl between Siegelman, Fob, and Flippo, Folsom was weakened by Hubbert’s challenge. He had to start raising money all over again. However, it looked like Folsom would still win. He was favored and polls showed him winning with five days left.

However, when the votes were tallied, Fob had pulled off an upset razor thin victory. The margin of his win was less than one point. Regardless of how close it was Fob won the 1994 Governor’s Race. Fob had won a second term as governor. He would become the first and probably only person in state history to be elected governor both as a Democrat and as a Republican.

September 24, 2014

Old Fob James had an unusual political personality. When he was out of the Governor’s office he showed a tremendous yearning to get back. The proof is he sought the office in 1986 and lost in the Democratic primary and lost again in 1990 in the primary. However, he came back and won in 1994 as a Republican. However, once he got the job he acted as if he did not want it.

As mentioned a few weeks earlier, Fob set a new standard for alienating his friends and supporters during his first term from 1978-1982. If you were his friend or supporter he refused to even see you. He seemed a little detached during his first term. However, if you think he fumbled his first term, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” because the second term was a nightmare.

Fob seemed completely out of focus during his second term and gave the appearance that he was completely uninterested in being governor. He made multiple mistakes right out of the gate and seemed to not really care. By mid-term it was assumed that whoever ran against Fob would beat him. When polls indicated this to be true, Don Siegelman made the decision to pull the trigger.

Siegelman had been elected lieutenant governor in 1994 as a Democrat and now saw his chance to grab the brass ring. In the 1990 Governor’s race Siegelman ran second to Paul Hubbert in the Democratic primary, this being his only defeat. Hubbert, who now had two losing battles under his belt, one in 1990 and again in 1994, would not be a candidate again.

Siegelman, who had been secretary of state, attorney general, and currently lieutenant governor, focused on being elected governor in 1998. He started running hard and scared off any major Democratic opposition. He out-distanced Birmingham lawyer Lenora Pate 85% to 15% in the Democratic primary, even though she received lots of editorial support.

Fob was not so lucky in his GOP primary. The Democrats were not the only ones who were disenchanted with Fob and sensed his vulnerability. However, Fob had the religious right wing of the Party in his corner because he had done their bidding.

Winton Blount III had been toiling in the Republican Party vineyards for a decade. He had plenty of time as his father, Red Blount, had made his son wealthy by birth. Winton III took his father’s millions and went after Fob with a vengeance. He cornered the moderate wing of the Republican Party and spent millions on media trying to corral conservative independents into the Republican primary. This worked to some extent. It was a tough 50/50 race, but Fob edged out a victory in a tough runoff primary that split the Republican Party.

Fob was weakened and had spent all of the money he could raise. Fob was not a good fundraiser and although the religious right is big on talk they are small on giving and the business PACs could see the polling that showed Fob would lose in the fall. Winton’s supporters never came home. The primary fight had been too bitter. Winton never even endorsed fellow Republican Fob.

Siegelman worked tirelessly. It was the chance for the job he had been working toward all of his adult life. He ran hard on a platform favoring a state lottery. When the votes were counted in November, Siegelman trounced Fob. Siegelman won the 1998 Governor’s race and became one of only two Democratic governors in the south. Republicans had won in all of the other southern contested governor’s races. Indeed, Alabama has not elected a Democrat as governor since the 1998 Siegelman victory.

October 1, 2014

 

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