Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: What makes you qualified?

  One would have to wonder what our current governor and legendary governor, Big Jim Folsom, have in common. Riley is quiet and calculating whereas Big Jim was loud, gregarious and somewhat uninhibited. However, both were given humiliating rebukes in their efforts to work with the legislature.

  In the 1950’s Big Jim called for a special session to rewrite the Constitution and reapportion the legislature. The legislature met only one day and adjourned. A few years ago Riley called for a special session within the regular session. The current members of the legislature simply ignored him. Another similarity between the two is that neither had ever served in the legislature nor did they know many members personally.

  Alabamians have a history of electing governors who basically have no governmental experience much less legislative experience. Please excuse the fact that I might be somewhat prejudiced in my next statement having served 16 years in the Alabama House, but it might serve a governor in good stead if he or she had legislative experience.

  Legislators, especially if they have served for a decade or two, have learned a few things about state government. In fact, if they are moderately active and attuned, and they have gotten a feel for how state government operates. They understand the budgets and the budget process as well as the different machinations of how state government works. In fact, a very good argument could be made that if you were hiring someone to run your business would you hire someone who had worked in your line of business from the ground floor up or would you hire someone off the street with no experience?

  A former legislator turned governor not only understands state government and how it works but even more importantly he or she knows the members of the legislature on a personal, friendly basis. These relationships are invaluable in getting your program approved or at least addressed. Lasting lifetime friendship bonds are developed by legislative colleagues. They know each other, what they believe in, how they operate, what makes them tick, and whose word is good.

  However, as I stated, we have had a penchant for electing governors who are basically outsiders beginning with Big Jim in 1946 who had never been elected to anything before becoming governor. In 1950 Gordon Persons was elected after having served one term on the PSC but had no legislative experience. John Patterson became governor in 1958 after having served one term as attorney general. He had no legislative experience and was elected out of sympathy after the assassination of his father Albert Patterson. Fob James became governor in 1978 and had no political experience at all. He was a dismal failure with the legislature. Guy Hunt was elected in 1986 and his only experience was as Probate Judge of Cullman County. Hunt actually worked hard to cultivate the legislature but failed. Little Jim Folsom followed Hunt for two years and his only political experience was being on the PSC. Fob came back again and was as ineffective his second term as he was his first. He was basically ignored by the legislature. Riley is in the same boat as Fob.  He is basically irrelevant in the legislative halls.

  You might have noticed that I skipped the 1960’s and 1970’s because George Wallace was governor. He was the most effective and powerful governor in history. Wallace also served in the legislature. He understood the legislature and legislative process. He knew every member by name and cultivated their votes and friendship. He was in a league by himself.

  The second most effective governor in the past 66 years we just scanned would be Albert Brewer, who was governor from 1968-1970. He was adored by members of the legislature and they wanted him to succeed. Brewer, like Wallace, had grown up in the legislature. Both men came to the Alabama House at a very young age and became tireless workers. They spent long hours learning the rules and process as well as cultivating lasting relationships with their colleagues. They were very effective and knowledgeable legislators. Brewer went on to become Speaker of the House.

  Seth Hammett, the current Speaker of the House, with 28 years in the legislature, the last twelve of which he served as Speaker, would certainly make him the best qualified candidate for governor since George Wallace and Albert Brewer.  However, as you know, he is not a candidate.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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