As a young boy I was fascinated with politics. I would devour political history with an insatiable appetite. At the same time I developed a close friendship with the two most veteran and powerful politicians in my county. They perceived that we were kindred political spirits and they were amazed and amused at my interest and enthusiasm in their game of politics. It was not only a game to them, it was their livelihood.

My house was around the corner from both of them as they lived on the same street and my paper route was around our neighborhood so I was their paperboy. One was the probate judge and one was our local state representative. The representative and I became especially good buddies. He became like a grandfather to me. He was a kind, generous man who helped his constituents everyday of the year.

He would take me everywhere with him. Some days we would go to Montgomery when he was on a trip to help a constituent. We would go to the highway department to see the highway director about a road or one day we would go to see the agriculture commissioner about helping a farmer with a problem. He would tell all that he was grooming me for his house seat when he retired. I was 12 at the time and he was 62.

One day after I had delivered my newspapers he said let’s go to Montgomery, I’ve got a special trip for you. So we got in his shiny New Yorker and drove the 45 mile trip to the Capitol quickly. He would surpass the speed limit, gleefully taking advantage of his legislative immunity. He would wave at the state troopers as we sped down the two-lane road doing 75 mph. They would wave back smiling with love for the old legislator who had gotten them their jobs with the state.

On this day we were going to see the Governor. George Wallace was in his first term. My buddy, the old representative, told the Governor I was going to follow him in his house seat when he quit and sure enough I did. Twenty years later I was in the seat and George Wallace was still Governor in his last term. I was actually Wallace’s representative since his hometown of Clio was in my district. He never forgot the first time we met when I was a 12 year old page and protégé of Mr. Gardner.

When it came time for me to run in 1982 at age 30 I had been trained by these two men for almost two decades. They sent me out well prepared. We knew the seat would be open well in advance so I had been campaigning for over a year. We won easily. They, and everybody else, saw early that my race was going to be a landslide so the other races on the ballot became premier.

The probate judge and sheriff races were going to be tough nail biters. I could hardly campaign without somebody asking me who I was for in those races. My mentor sat me down in his kitchen early in the year and imparted advice that he said was a cardinal rule in Alabama politics. If you are a sitting and active politician never, never get involved or endorse another candidate. You make one ingrate and over a thousand enemies. This has always been a cardinal rule in Alabama politics. In addition, it always backfires. George Wallace tried it a few times during the height of his popularity and every time his endorsed candidate lost.

I have told you this story to illustrate that Gov. Riley learned this lesson in the recent special election for the open state senate seat in Baldwin County. Riley endorsed Randy McKinney. He was heavily favored but lost to Trip Pittman. This district is one of the most republican in the state. It is also one of Riley’s top counties for popularity and job approval. McKinney led the field of four strong candidates in the first primary and had all the Montgomery money endorsements. However, Riley’s endorsement created a backlash and elected Pittman.

The lesson learned by Riley is Alabamians resent a politician arrogantly trying to get involved in another race. All politics is local. These two maxims have withstood the test of time.