October 4, 2023 - It’s Official – Alabama will have new Congressional Districts.

It’s official and final, Alabama will elect our seven member congressional delegation under new lines next year.  The federal court has spoken. The special master drawing the lines has acted and the final omnipotent power, the U.S. Supreme Court, has concurred and confirmed the decision.  It is over.

The result that the plaintiffs desired has been decreed by the courts.  There will be a new second majority Black Congressional district.  This accomplishment has been sought for decades.

Now the question becomes, can the Democrats succeed in electing a Black Democrat to this new opportunity district.  It is not a slam dunk.  The new district is 50% Black and 50% White.  It favors a Montgomery candidate.  The bulk of the population and the geographic center of the new district is Montgomery county.  Montgomerians are like the rest of the state, they adhere to the well-known predilection known as “friends and neighbors” politics.  That means they prefer to vote for someone from their neck of the words, especially their county.

My early prediction is that Montgomery mayor, Steven Reed, will be the Democratic nominee and will be the favorite to win the new Seat.

The special master that  drew the new lines attached an index to his maps that revealed that if there were a congressional race within this new district that this district would have voted for the Democrat in 15 out of 17 of the last 17 elections.  Therefore, the court’s desire to make a second minority Democratic district where a Democrat has a good opportunity to win has been accomplished. 

The entire basis of this high profile federal case has been centered around the fact that Alabama has one Black Democratic Congressperson, Terri Sewell, and six White Republicans.  One Black Democrat constitutes 14% of the state’s population.  The plaintiff’s argument that the state’s Black population is 27%. Therefore, there should be two Black Democratic congressional seats in the Heart of Dixie.  The courts bought that argument and hung their hat on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and having one seat rather than two violates and dilutes Black voters in Alabama’s voting rights.

The question now becomes, what are the down home political implications and results of these court mandated new congressional lines.  All of you who live in middle and north Alabama, which is most of you, are unaffected.  The majority of the people in Alabama, who live in Birmingham north are not affected.  In fact, everyone north of Montgomery is unaffected.  All of the commotion and redrawing has occurred in Montgomery, the Black Belt, the Wiregrass, and Mobile. 

Our three powerful Republican congressmen are left with basically their same districts.  Republicans Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers and Gary Palmer, who are our centers of power in the House, have their same if not enhanced GOP districts.  Huntsville’s freshman congressman, Dale Strong’s district is unchanged.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s  Democratic district has been favored in the drawings.  She has a perfectly drawn district that pretty much mirrors her current Birmingham based seat.  She will probably be spared a Republican challenge.  However, State Senator Bobby Singleton, who hails from the Black Belt, may challenge her in a Democratic primary out of spite.  He wanted a district that favored him but lost to Sewell in the legislative battles over the drawing of the new Black district.  

The real rubber meets the road within the Republican ranks in the Wiregrass, and Mobile and Baldwin counties.  The five Wiregrass counties of Covington, Dale, Geneva, Houston, and Coffee are sent to Baldwin and Mobile.  Therefore, new Congressmen Jerry Carl from Mobile and Barry Moore from Enterprise/Coffee are in the same district.  Moore is the odd man out in this dilemma.  The majority of votes in this new district are in Baldwin and Mobile counties.  Carl will be the prohibitive favorite against Moore, or any other Republican.  It will be a very conservative Republican district.  Therefore, six of our seven seats will be in safe reelection journeys for our incumbent congressmen.  Jerry Carl in the first, Mike Rogers in the third, Robert Aderholt in the fourth, Dale Strong in the fifth, Gary Palmer in the sixth, and Terri Sewell in the seventh are very safe bets for reelection in 2024.  Therefore, all of the turmoil and court intervention only affects one area of the state.

All the brouhaha and action will be in the newly drawn second district.  It is Montgomery Democratic Mayor Steven Reed’s race to lose.  He will be the favorite to win and change Alabama’s delegation in Washington from six Republicans and one Democrat to five Republicans and two Democrats.  However, I would handicap that race as a 50/50 toss-up.  There will be a lot of Republican dollars from Washington showered upon the Republican nominee.  It will be interesting.

See you next week.

September 27, 2023 - Roads Vital and Political for Alabama

Roads and bridges have been vital to Alabama since its creation.  This is probably true of most states; however, it has been especially true for Alabama for several reasons.  First of all, we are a large state, geographically.  Most metropolitan areas are a good many miles from the State Capitol in Montgomery.  It is a long journey for folks from Huntsville, Mobile, and even Birmingham metro, and, if you go from one end of the state from Scottsboro to Dothan or Huntsville to Mobile you have been on a really long journey.  We also have a lot of water in Alabama including lakes and creeks besides the major rivers that traverse our state.  Therefore, that is why I included bridges in my opening sentence.  Bridges are a necessity in our state more so than in other states.  We also have a major Port in Mobile that needs to be sustained along with roads and bridges.  

It is an acknowledged fact that having adequate roads is a major factor when it comes to economic growth and development in a state.  Every economic developer will attest to this road factor.  Roads and education are the primary components to economic growth for a state. Therefore, roads have been a primary campaign theme and criteria of accomplishment for every governor as long as I can remember.  

It is and has been the most important factor in determining whether a governor has a legacy.  It is something they can point to and hang their hat on.  Going back the last 60 to 70 years there have been only three or four governors, who have what I call a real legacy, and one of the primary benchmarks for creating a legacy is roads.

John Patterson had a road legacy by virtue of the fact that he was governor during the Dwight Eisenhower Federal Interstate Act.  This Interstate Act created by President Eisenhower is one of the most important presidential acts in history.  In fact, most of the growth in the state and most of the population lives along I-65, which traverses the state and includes Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.

George Wallace has numerous legacies but, if you knew him, roads were his number one priority.  Wallace was also the most brilliant, accomplished, successful political governor in state history, and I stress the word political, so Wallace played politics when it came to roads.  As the ultimate political animal in Alabama’s political history, you would expect nothing less.

Wallace lived by the political adage you reward your friends and punish your enemies. One slow news day, Wallace held a press conference and a young, liberal, muckraking, Birmingham news reporter asked the Governor, “Why do you give all the road projects in the state to your contributors, friends and cronies?”  Wallace looked at the young boy incredulously and said, “Who do you think I ought to give them to, my enemies?”

The two political legends of my lifetime were George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom.  They were elected governor by the rural and smaller, midsize cities and counties in the state.  They neither ever carried the metropolitan counties of Jefferson, Madison and Montgomery. Therefore, these metro areas never received their rightful share of road dollars, especially under Wallace. 

I have been asked over the years is it true the Birmingham area was the last metro area to get interstates completed because Wallace refused to appropriate any state funds to Birmingham to match the federal dollars needed for completion because they voted against him.  My answer is short. The answer is yes.  Wallace would acknowledge that to close friends and political allies.  

The Governor who has the greatest legacy for roads in my lifetime and maybe history is the legendary Big Jim Folsom.  Most of the rural roads in the state were built by Big Jim Folsom’s “Farm to Market” road program.

In Big Jim’s era, the state was agriculturally oriented.  Almost everybody farmed and had crops they needed to get to the market.  Most of the roads in the rural areas were dirt roads.  If the rain came early, the roads would turn to mud and would be impassable.  Therefore, the poor Alabama farmer who had toiled all year to make a crop could not get his produce to market.  His year’s work was ruined by poor roads.  Big Jim, who was the little man’s big friend, knew this and he fixed it by paving most of the rural roads.  Big Jim has one of the most endearing legacies of any Alabama governor because of his “Farm to Market” road program.

See you next week.

September 20, 2023 - Democrats Indictment Plan Has Made Trump GOP Nominee and maybe next President

In early April, I wrote that “Democrats give Trump a lifeline.” It was at that time that a Democratic district attorney in an overwhelmingly Democratic New York venue had indicted Trump in a political ploy to disarm in some way, politically.

There is an old saying that you can indict a potato or a ham sandwich.  The legal threshold for getting a grand jury to offer a writ of indictment only requires that there is a scintilla of evidence that there may be a crime or misdemeanor.  Therefore, a prosecutor can orchestrate an indictment.

It looks like the Democrats plan is to replay the 2020 election in the courts, which is destroying Americans’ trust in their judicial system.  They are making the courts a theatrical comedy political show.  It used to be off limits to use the courts to indict a person for political reasons.  Make no mistake about it, all of these trumped up indictments are just that, orchestrated political ploys.

The Democrats have politically used the judicial system to indict Donald Trump – unbelievably four times in four different Democratic venues with Democratic judges and Democratic juries. The last two plays are in slam dunk Democratic clubhouses.  The third indictment is in Washington D.C., which is 96% Democratic.  The fourth is in Fulton County, Atlanta, Georgia, which is 80% Democratic.  

There will never be a conviction upheld by a superior unbiased appeals court.  It would also take six years of appeals to get resolved and by that time Trump and Biden might not be here and if they are here, may not know they are here. The 2024 race will long be over and forgotten.  These political indictments are designed and orchestrated to derail Trump in 2024.

Make no mistake about it, these charades are politically motivated but not for the reason you think.  Most would assume that the Democrats wanted to bloody Trump in order to beat him in the General Election next November against Biden.  Not so, they want him to be the Republican nominee because he will be easy to beat, and they know that.  This courtroom ploy is playing out with the Republican base with such anger and outrage that it is making Trump a martyr.

Indeed, as late as March, polls showed that Trump could not be elected president under any circumstances. He was probably not going to be the Republican nominee.  He had dropped to 25% among Republicans with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 40% without DeSantis even being in the race.

After every indictment the sensationalism was met with glee by the liberal media. However, it was met by more glee by one, Donald Trump.  It not only gave him a political lifeline, it essentially assured him the Republican nomination.  The latest polls reveal Trump has a demanding lead in the GOP horserace.  He is sitting on 54% vote to DeSantis’s 15% and the rest of the dwarfs are at 5% or less.

Trump will more than likely carry Alabama, overwhelmingly in our March 5 GOP Primary.  All six of our current Republican Congressmen have endorsed him as well as our Senior Senator Tommy Tuberville who by the way is probably Trump’s closest and most loyal ally in the U.S. Senate. Trump was met by enthusiastic, energetic enthusiasm when he spoke to a record breaking crowd of Alabama Republicans at their summer dinner in Montgomery on August 4.

Folks, the Democratic plan to make Donald Trump the Republican nominee has been successful.  They have used Democratic courts to orchestrate his nomination.  However, they may have overplayed their hand.  There is such a thing as “piling on” to use a football analogy.  Every time one of these indictments comes down, it makes it look more and more frivolous and political.  It has become viewed by Republicans as over the top and hitting below the waist politics.  They may be making some Independent voters reconsider their distaste for Donald Trump.  In addition, every time one of these ploys comes down, Trump raises tons of money.  The Democrats may have succeeded in making Trump the nominee they wanted. However, they may have gone too far. They may elect him President.

During Trump’s visit to Montgomery when he spoke the GOP faithful following the third indictment out of Washington D.C,, you could tell he was delighted with the latest pile on. He gleefully told the audience, “one more indictment and they will make me President.” He may be right.

Then the fourth indictment came down, and his polls and fundraising took off again. He would like nothing better than to hold a rally outside each courtroom next year. If political prosecution is the Democrats gameplan, they may have overplayed their hand. We will see.

See you next week.

September 13, 2023 - Of Course the Space Command Decision was Political

In my July 19, 2023 column my prediction was that Democratic President Joe Biden would keep the heralded space command headquarters in Colorado, rather than allow it to be moved to Alabama.  Biden made the Colorado decision 10 days later.  Why? It is very simple. Biden is a Democrat running for reelection for President as a Democrat.  Colorado is a blue Democratic state.  Alabama is a ruby red Republican state.  Of course, the decision to keep the facility in Colorado was political.

The only reason that the federal military officials even considered moving the Space Command from Colorado to Huntsville, Alabama over two years ago was because of our omnipotent senior senator, Richard Shelby.  When Shelby spoke generals and presidents listened.  Senator Richard Shelby was Chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee.  He wrote the federal budget.  There is an old adage that those who control the gold make the rules.  In this regard, Shelby was more powerful than the President, whether it be Trump or Biden.  Shelby told the Generals that he wanted the Space Facility in Huntsville, therefore, they made the announcement that it would be moving to Alabama.

The bottom line is the only reason there was any consideration towards moving the facility from Colorado to Alabama was Richard Shelby, and the only reason that it will not be moving is because Shelby is gone.  I knew at the time of announcement that the Space Command headquarters might move to Alabama, that if Shelby did not get it actually moved before he retired that it would probably never happen. Folks, you are just beginning to see the impact Senator Shelby’s retirement means to the state of Alabama.

Our two freshman senators, Tommy Tuberville and Katie Britt, fought valiantly and commendably for Huntsville, but they are essentially irrelevant in the process.  It is all about seniority in Washington.  Tuberville’s two and a half years in the Senate places him 93 out of 100 in seniority.  Young Katie Britt has the makings of being one of our greatest U.S. Senators, along with giants Richard Shelby, Lister Hill and John Sparkman.  However, currently, Katie’s eight months in the Senate places her 99 out of 100 in seniority.  Furthermore, Tuberville and Britt are in the minority party in the U.S. Senate.  Democrats have a majority in the Senate along with a Democratic President.

Some liberals have implied that Tommy Tuberville was the reason for the decision because of his feud with the Biden Administration over the abortion policy in the military.  That is not the reason.  They are actually flattering Tuberville. With his lack of seniority he is not that relevant in the decision making process. However, his being a rabid right wing Trump Republican surrogate certainly did not help the matter.

Huntsville should not feel so badly about the Biden Administration leaving Space Command in Colorado. It was crumbs compared to what Shelby loaded Huntsville up with in the last decade anyway.  This Space Command deal is more for prestige than it is for jobs and dollars.  Shelby brought most of the high tech and aerospace dollars in the country to Huntsville which is what matters.  Much more importantly, he moved most of Washington to Huntsville, including the FBI Headquarters.  Folks, that is real power.  It is unlikely that Alabama or any other state in the nation will ever see the power wielded by Richard Shelby in the nation’s history.

Yes, Colorado got to keep the Space Command name because of politics. However, lest people forget, Huntsville has grown into one of the premier high tech defense places in America because of politics.

In the post-Depression era of the 1930s, Huntsville was a sleepy cotton town of 20,000.  Our two U.S. Senators during the 1940s through 1960s were icons, Lister Hill and John Sparkman.  They were giants of the Senate, who were New Deal, FDR allies, with seniority, prowess and class. John Sparkman brought the Redstone Arsenal and Wernher von Braun to Huntsville and the rest is history.

Over the years I have told Huntsville’s brilliant Mayor, Tommy Battle, who has been an integral part of Huntsville’s explosive growth, they should name their city Sparkmanville.  Given Shelby’s powerful sustaining of what Senator Sparkman began 70 years ago, maybe Sparkman/Shelbyville should be the Rocket City’s new name.

It’s all about politics, folks.

See you next week.

September 6, 2023 - Alabama is in for a Congressional Shakeup

Being elected to Congress is like having a guaranteed job for as long as you want.  They serve two year terms and the reelection rate is 96%.  All you have to do is vote the party line and not commit murder and you are there for life.  The path to reelection to most political offices is to have money and name identification and this is especially true in Congressional races.

All seven of our congressmen are considered in safe seats.  We have six Republicans and one lone Democrat in our Alabama delegation to the Potomac.  The districts as currently drawn are designed for six Republicans and one Democrat.  

A three judge federal panel made up of two Republicans appointed judges and one Democrat appointee judge made the decision over two years ago that Alabama should have a second Black Democratic seat. They hung their hat and robe on the fact that one Black Democratic seat is not sufficient in Alabama given that one seat comprises only 14% of the black population and Alabama has a 27% Black population.  Thus, Black Democrats should have two rather than one Democratic seat in the Heart of Dixie.  This decision has been upheld by none other than the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, folks, it is about to happen.

My prediction over a year ago was that the Courts or their appointed cartographer will draw a second minority district. I further continue with my prognosis that the Court will act very soon, probably within the next few weeks, to ignore the legislature’s partisan plan in favor of the Milligan/Plaintiffs Plan. The result will be the new Congressional lines for the next decade.

The Milligan/Plaintiffs Plan is perfectly drawn and expertly designed to comply with the Court’s decree. This Plan creates a second minority district centered around all of Montgomery, the Black Belt, and the Black voters in Mobile.  The new second minority district will appropriately be Alabama District 2.

The old Second District that Republican Barry Moore sits in will be dissolved.  The Whites in the five Wiregrass counties will be sent to the Mobile/Baldwin Republican district held by Jerry Carl.

Under the Milligan/Plaintiffs Plan, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s district is beautifully drawn for her.  It is essentially the same as her current district.  It will be 55% Black.

The new Second District will be 50% Black.  The Republicans will contest this new district and may prevail.  However, the odds favor a Black Democrat.  My guess is when the dust settles in November 2024, Alabama’s Congressional makeup will be five Republicans and two Democrats.

This change has been brewing for over a decade.  Black voters have argued that having a Black population of 27% calls for two seats under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Finally, after the 2020 census, Black plaintiffs sought relief from our federal courts.  It was clear that the growth in the Black population in the Montgomery area would allow for a congruent, clearly defined second minority district.  When you include Montgomery with the 12 rural overwhelmingly Black and Black Belt counties and draw in most of the Black voters in Mobile, it became possible.

The three judge panel agreed and gave the state a two year reprieve because the 2022 elections based on the 2020 census were already ongoing. You could tell from the original decision to stay the case due to the timing of the 2022 elections that the Supreme Court was interested in revisiting this Alabama scenario.  They did and they ruled and sent it back to the three Alabama judges to uphold.  The three judge panel is going to rule on the final district lines any day now.

The lines that the Judges deliver to Alabama soon will favor a second minority district for our state.  This Supreme Court case is far reaching.  It will also change the partisan makeup of other Southern states like Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina.  The Supreme Court knew what they were doing.  They knew they were using Alabama as a guinea pig and plowing new ground in the South under the Voting Rights Act.

Our Alabama Congressional delegation is looking at a shakeup in 2024.  However, it will not affect our power and influence in the U.S. House.  Our three Republican powers in Congress, Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers, and Gary Palmer, will be unaffected, and our two Republican newcomers, Jerry Carl and Dale Strong, will have enhanced Republican districts. Terri Sewell will be entrenched as a Democratic leader in the House.

See You next week.

August 30, 2023 - Summer Political Happenings

As the long hot summer ends and Labor Day approaches, let’s take a look back at what occurred over the last three summer months, politically.

First of all, it was one of the hottest summers on record.  Temperatures soared into the hundreds as early as late June.  On one of those late June days, one of the hottest political events of the year occurred. The annual Tomato Sandwich Lunch event hosted by Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate was the biggest, yet.  The twentieth annual Tomato Sandwich Lunch held at the Ed Teague Arena near the Garrett Coliseum was a must be at event for Alabama political elite.  

The Tomato Sandwich Lunch promotes produce from local farmers and encourages people to eat Alabama grown products.  Alabama based vendors donate all of the food for the event.  Commissioner Rick Pate was a master host to over 500 attendees.

In attendance were U.S. Senator Katie Britt, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth. PSC member Jeremy Oden came from Cullman and State Board of Education President Wayne Reynolds came from Athens.

State Judges in attendance were Supreme Court Judge Greg Cook, Criminal Appeals Court Judge Bill Cole, and Civil Appeals Court Judges Matt Friday and Bill Thompson.

Legislators spotted were State Senators Josh Carnley and Will Barfoot, as well as Representatives Jerry Starnes, Margie Wilcox, Van Smith and Ed Oliver.

There were dozens of local County Commissioners from all over the state.

Many of the state’s most prominent lobbyists were there along with many of the Governor’s Cabinet members.

Alabama Power Government Affairs guru Houston Smith, as well as Alfa Executive Director Paul Pinyan were prominent.  In fact, most of Alfa’s governmental affairs folks were at this very fun and political event.

During the summer everybody and their brother or at least everyone whoever won a 4-H speaking contest entered the race for the Republican nomination for President.  There must be 20 people running against Donald Trump for the GOP nomination.  This is just what Trump was hoping for.  It splinters the anti-Trump vote to such a degree that it virtually assures him the nomination.  

During the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Alabama’s Congressional districts were gerrymandered to keep Black voters from being able to elect a second Black Democrat to Congress. Alabama currently has six white Republican Congressmen and one Black Democratic Congresswoman, Terri Sewell.

In July, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Mike Bolin won a special election to fill a seat on the five member Jefferson County Commission. His election was like manna from Heaven for the Jefferson County Republican Party. The commissioner, who departed this important seat, was a Republican. The commission had a three to two Republican majority. Therefore, it was an important election for the state’s largest and most important county. 

Mike Bolin had just retired from the Alabama Supreme Court after 18 years on the state’s high tribunal. He had been Probate Judge of Jefferson County for 16 years prior to his service on the Supreme Court. He only retired from the Supreme Court due to a state law that prevents judges from running for reelection after age 70.

Bolin is Jefferson County through and through and one of the most respected gentleman and public servants in Jefferson County and Alabama. The imperial county of Jefferson is fortunate that Judge Mike Bolin was available and ready to serve.

His swearing in ceremony occurred on a sweltering hot July 31. The large Jefferson County Courthouse commission chambers was overflowing. It was a congregation of who’s who of Jefferson County politics.

Hope you had a good summer. Happy football season and happy Labor Day!

See you next week.

Aug. 23, 2023 - Big Jim, “Just spell my name right!”

Alabama has never had a more colorful governor than Big Jim Folsom. He also was a brilliant politician who understood the importance of name identification. 

My ninth-grade civics teacher was Miss Mary Lamb.  She had taught school for many years and in fact had taught both my mama and daddy in high school.  Besides our civics lesson she would impart wisdom upon us in the way of old sayings.  One she particularly liked was, “Fools’ names, fools’ faces, always found in public places.”  

This one kind of bothered me because I was a budding politician and was already class president.  I had learned that one of the first courses of action was to plaster your name all over school.  Later in life, I ran for and won election to the Alabama legislature.  Every time we would go out to put up campaign signs, I would cringe when I thought about Miss Lamb’s admonition.  However, as a student of politics, I knew that name identification was essential.  You cannot expect a voter to vote for you if they have not even heard of you.

One of the best stories I know on Big Jim Folsom focused on his belief in the importance of name identification. Big Jim’s first term had broken the moneyed interests’ stronghold on the governor’s office. But the big city dailies and the legislators were still controlled by the Big Mules of Birmingham and the Big Planters of the Black Belt. They hated Big Jim’s folksiness. The big dailies like the Birmingham News, Montgomery Advertiser, and Mobile Press Register would poke fun at Big Jim and try to discover a scandal on a daily basis.  The legislature constantly tried to impeach him.

One of the papers, after days of digging, felt they had another patented scandal to reveal on Folsom.  They called to tell him that they had an expose on his administration and out of courtesy wanted to get his side of the story.  Now Big Jim could not care less what the big city press said about him.  They had written the harshest things about Folsom that could ever be written. It had not affected him one bit with his loyal rural friends and constituents, so it is not surprising that Big Jim treated the big city press with contempt and disdain.  When they called, he said, “Boys, come on down and see Big Jim and tell me what you got on me today.  I haven’t seen y’all in a week or two.  Come on down right now.”

When they got down to the office, he greeted them with his shoes off and his bare feet resting on his desk, reared back in his chair, with a grin on his face.  He said, “Boys, hit me with your best shot.  What y’all got on ole Jim?” They said, “Governor, this is no laughing matter.  We have a list here of 37 people who you hired over in the Highway Department and circumvented the merit system to put them on the state payroll.” Big Jim laughed and glanced at their list and said, “You lying daily newspapers, you lying about Big Jim again, lying, lying, lying.  I got a new list right here and I haven’t hired 37 people, I’ve hired 72, and the only merit they got is that they’re Big Jim’s friends.”

The reporters were incredulous.  They said, “Governor, we are going to put that in the paper tomorrow.” Big Jim smiled and said, “Boys, I don’t care what you write about me, just spell my name right!”

Big Jim knew the cardinal rule of name identification.  The saying is now famous among Alabama politicians, “just spell my name right.”  Big Jim coined it.

Even though Big Jim was fully vetted by the big city dailies on an almost daily basis, he was governor in an era where there was no ethics law and no overt political prosecution unlike today. Big Jim was known as the “little man’s big friend.” His campaign song was “Y’all Come.”

I hope you have enjoyed this five-part series on Big Jim Folsom.

See you next week.

August 16, 2023 - Big Jim’s Run for Congress

We will continue this week with the saga of Alabama’s most colorful governor, the legendary Big Jim Folsom. 

Jim Folsom, Jr. shared a story about his father’s early political  life.

Big Jim always knew that he wanted to go into politics, so he jumped right in.  His hometown of Elba in Coffee County was in the sprawling old third congressional district which encompassed the southeastern part of the state.  It was referred to as the “Wiregrass” district.

The venerable and dignified Henry Steagall of Ozark had represented the Wiregrass district for 20 years when Big Jim decided to take him on.  Steagall had become a powerful and well-known congressman.  He was chairman of the House Banking Committee and had authored the famous Glass-Steagall Act, which revised national banking laws during FDR’s New Deal.

As you can imagine, Chairman Steagall enjoyed the fruits of his labors.   He hobnobbed with New York bankers. The big banking lobbyists were wining and dining Steagall and taking him to Broadway shows.  He was living the high life in Washington.  When he came home to the Wiregrass, he wore Brooks Brothers suits even when he was quail hunting.  You could say, and many did, that old Henry had lost touch with the folks in the Wiregrass.

The aloofness and “Washingtonitis” had created an opening for political challengers, and Big Jim was one of the four who challenged Stegall in 1936.  All four of his opponents jumped on Steagall’s lifestyle.  They accused him of living the grand life.  They said he was not only eating pheasant under glass with New York bankers, but he was also cavorting with young girls in Washington.

In this era, Alabama politics was conducted mostly through campaign rallies in the courthouse square.  Even in a small town, it was not unusual for 500 people, including many farmers in their overalls, to gather on the square during campaign season for a political rally.  Every candidate for every office would show up to speak.  The local candidates would talk and then the gubernatorial candidates, and then the Congressional candidates.  They would draw straws to set the order in which they would speak.  On this particular day, all of the candidates for Steagall’s seat were there as well as the congressman.

Every one of the challengers jumped on Steagall’s personal life.  They lambasted his fine dining and especially harped on the old man’s fooling around with young women.  Except for Big Jim, who was 26, all the other candidates were middle-aged.  When it finally became Big Jim’s time to speak, he made it short and sweet.  He said, “Folks, I’ve been listening to all my opponents talk about Mr. Steagall’s lifestyle in Washington, especially his liking and running with young women.  Sounds like to me if that’s the job of a congressman in Washington, you ought to bring Old Henry home and send a young man up there to take his place.  I believe I could do a better job with fine dining and young women.  Y’all vote for me.”

Big Jim ran second to Steagall that year, but he carried that town.

In that same campaign, Big Jim was politicking down a dirt road in rural Geneva County.  He stopped by a farmhouse at the end of the dirt road.  The farmer and his wife visited with the young candidate.  They gave young Jim Folsom several large glasses of buttermilk to drink while they sat on the porch and visited.  Big Jim and the farmer bonded.  The old farmer lamented that he wished somebody would pave his road so that he could get his produce to market no matter what the weather.  Big Jim lost that race for Congress, but he never forgot that old farmer in Geneva County.  When Big Jim became governor a decade later, the first dirt road he paved in his famous Farm-to-Market road building program was that one in Geneva County.  It is called the Buttermilk Road.

Big Jim got a lot of things said about him on the campaign trail while he was governor, but he had a unique way of disarming and diminishing the effect of the mud being slung at him. He would rear back and tell his rural audiences, “My mama used to tell me that if someone threw mud at you and it landed on your new white starched shirt, you simply ignore it.  Don’t try to wipe it off right away while it is still wet because if you do it will just smear all over your shirt.  But if you ignore it and let it dry for a few days you can just thump it off.”

See you next week.

August 9, 2023 - Friends and Lawyers

We continue this week with our series of stories about Alabama’s most colorful governor, the legendary Big Jim Folsom. 

Big Jim was a true politician, and he was not above straddling the fence, but at least he was honest about it. When asked a tough question about a complex or difficult issue, Ole Big Jim would simply look at the inquisitive reporter with a pensive thoughtful and serious look and say with a straight face, “Well you know some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it, and I’m always on the side of my friends.”

Big Jim had a real disdain for lawyers. He called them every name in the book.  He especially criticized lawyers serving in the legislature, believing it was unconstitutional for them, as officers of the court, to serve in the legislative branch.  He said lawyers belong in the judicial branch and if they wanted to be in politics, they ought to be judges since judges are elected in Alabama. He would rail against lawyers in the legislature every chance he got.  He said they could not serve two masters.  They can’t serve the Lord and the Devil.  He called them two pocket lawyers.

In reality, he did not dislike all lawyers.  A good many of his best friends were lawyers.  Indeed, some of his best political friends and supporters were lawyers. 

Former Governor John Patterson, who passed away last year at age 99, shared with me this next story about him and Big Jim.

During Big Jim’s second term, 1955-59, John Patterson was attorney general and succeeded Folsom as governor. On the surface, it appeared Folsom and Patterson did not like each other because Patterson was quick to condemn and prosecute some of Big Jim’s cronies.  However, they did like each other and remained friends throughout their lives.  Both were astute politicians.

During this time, the Interstate Highway Act was created by the Eisenhower administration. It was and still is the largest federal project ever undertaken.  A good bit of federal money began to flow into the states, including Alabama, for development of the interstate system.

There were a good many Alabamians who did not want to give up their land for highways. Some had land that had been in their families for generations and their forefathers had admonished them never to sell the land. In those cases, the state and federal governments had to condemn the land and take it over by right of eminent domain.  The legal maneuvering fell upon the state attorney general’s office, and the work was so overwhelming that the attorney general’s staff had to hire outside lawyers.  This is and has always been a lucrative plan for lawyers.  Patterson was delighted to get to put a good many of his legal brothers and political supporters on the state’s payroll as assistant attorney generals.  These lawyers would make a lot of money on these projects.

One of the most expensive acquisitions was the purchase of the area in Jefferson County that today is known as “malfunction junction.” Forty acres of houses, including some very nice homes, were located in the path of the highway in the Norwood section of north Birmingham.  The cost and legal fees were substantial.

Patterson hired a good many of his Birmingham legal buddies.  He sent the contracts over to the governor’s office to be approved.  The governor legally had to sign off on the contracts.  A good amount of time had elapsed between Patterson sending his list of lawyers over and Big Jim signing off on them.  Finally, Patterson went over to see Big Jim about his appointments.  He said, “Governor, what’s the problem?  We need to sign off on this work.  It’s delaying the highway system from moving on in Alabama.”

Big Jim looked at Patterson and said, “John, you know that I have a lot of friends that are lawyers, too.”  The Governor said, “I’ve got a deal for you.  You name half of the lawyers and I’ll name half of the lawyers.”  What could Patterson say?  That’s the way it came down!

Big Jim believed in helping his friends.

See you next week.

August 2, 2023 - Siegelman Meets Big Jim

We are continuing this week with our summer series on Big Jim Folsom – Alabama’s most colorful governor. 

Those of us who grew up in and around Alabama politics have coined a descriptive term for a person who is obsessed with seeking political office constantly and tirelessly without reservation or concern for their physical, mental or financial welfare.  They will run for high elected office at all costs. The term we use to describe those people is named for the man who best exemplified that obsession, George Wallace.  Therefore, someone who is driven by obsession to win high public office has the “George Wallace Syndrome.”  

The Alabama baby boomer who was eaten up with the George Wallace Syndrome more than any other I know was Don Siegelman. Siegelman ran nonstop beginning from the time he was a student at the University of Alabama in the 1960’s.  He was successful.  He was President of the Student Government at Alabama and went on to become Alabama’s Secretary of State, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor and finally his life’s dream of Governor.

There is an old political saying that you don’t ever want to get into a race with someone who wants it more than you and will out work you.  Siegelman was never outworked.  He was relentless and focused on the ultimate prize that many a young politician in Alabama aspired to and that’s the governor’s chair.  He captured the brass ring.  

Siegelman reminded me so much of George Wallace, he truly deserves the award for having the Wallace Syndrome.  He and Wallace were so consumed with politics and being governor that neither one of them could tell you what they were eating when you had lunch with them.  Eating was a sideline to any political discussion they were having and calling lunch.  They ate because they had to eat to survive.

Siegelman was always a little more liberal than most Alabamians.  Therefore, he grew up admiring the more progressive Alabama political icons.  He admired our progressive New Deal Democrats, such as Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Carl Elliott. However, the utmost idol for young liberal politicians of my era was James E. “Big Jim” Folsom.  Big Jim was truly a progressive on fiscal and social issues.  

Siegelman had a remarkedly similar career and educational background as Bill Clinton. Both were almost the same age, both received undergraduate degrees from their state universities, both left college and went to prestigious law schools – Clinton to Yale and Siegelman to Georgetown.  They both went on to do postgraduate work at Oxford in England.  Then they both started running for office right away.  Clinton ran for Congress, then Governor of Arkansas.  Siegelman ran for Secretary of State and then on up the Alabama political ladder to Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor.

As Siegelman was beginning his first foray into Alabama politics, I will share with you a funny story that I call the “Don Siegelman meets Big Jim story.” 

Siegelman was campaigning hard all day for Secretary of State in early 1978 and wound up his day late in Cullman.  Big Jim, in his later years camped out at a truck stop along the interstate in Cullman.  Big Jim was drinking coffee and Siegelman spotted his lifelong hero and liberal idol, Big Jim, and went over to introduce himself.  Siegelman gave Big Jim his spiel and what he was doing and how his campaign for Secretary of State was going.  He gave Big Jim the story of his pedigree concerning all of his educational degrees: University of Alabama Student Government President, Georgetown Law School and Oxford in England.

Big Jim listened intently to the young politician and sipped on his coffee.  Now, you have to realize that even though Big Jim was a progressive on fiscal and race matters, he was pretty down home when it came to country politics, patronage, and home spun talking to folks.  Big Jim was also pretty pragmatic and plain spoken.  He said, “Boy are you asking my advice about your campaign?”  Siegelman said, “Sure I am Governor.”  Big Jim said, “Well, first of all you need to change your name, ain’t nobody in Opp going to vote for some boy named Siegelman.  First of all you can’t say it, secondly, it don’t sound like a good regular Alabama Baptist or Methodist name, and you better tell folks you went to school at Oxford High School in Calhoun County and not some place in England. Thirdly, don’t you know you can’t steal any money in that job?”

See you next week.