Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: From the Hunts to the Bentleys

  Many of you have suggested that Dr. Robert Bentley and his wife Diane remind you of Guy and Helen Hunt. Although the Bentleys are more educated than the Hunts, they do have similarities. Both are devoutly religious, humble and sincere and seem uncomfortable with the trappings and deference surrounding the auspices of being governor and first lady.

  Guy and Helen Hunt were childhood sweethearts in rural Cullman County. They lived a very simple life. Helen assumed that she and Guy would have a happy rural religious life on their small North Alabama farm. Her expectations were met as she raised their children and kept their family home.  Guy, who was a primitive Baptist preacher in their community, led a more diverse and conspicuous existence than Helen.

  In 1964, when Alabama and the other southern states voted straight Republican for Barry Goldwater, a lot of novice and unsuspecting local Republican candidates were swept into office. One of those was Guy Hunt, who had signed up to run as the GOP candidate for Probate Judge of Cullman County. He won and commenced to become one of the most stalwart Republicans in the state. Hunt labored in the rural Alabama Republican vineyards for years. He became a Ronald Reagan disciple.

  In 1986 he again was in the right place at the right time. His years of loyalty to the Republican cause culminated with his being the token Republican nominee for governor. When Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick and the Democratic Party leadership imploded, Guy Hunt was elected governor by default.

  There is a political maxim that declares more people vote against someone than for someone. This adage was never more applicable than in 1986 when Guy Hunt was elected Governor of Alabama. The Democratic Party’s undemocratic decision to name Bill Baxley as their nominee even though he did not get the most votes in the primary so incensed Alabamians’ sense of fairness and honesty that they would have voted for Mickey Mouse if he had been the Republican nominee.

  Hunt was uneducated but he was not ignorant. He surrounded himself with very smart and capable people. He quickly grasped the political spectrum of Montgomery and set out to sail a conservative ship of state. He was wise enough to keep his agenda simple and achievable. The need for tort reform was the paramount conservative business mission. He set his sights on that goal and did not deviate.

  Hunt took a page from the George Wallace playbook. Wallace was a master at courting and working the legislature. In fact, Wallace was so adept that one month during my freshman year in the legislature I ate more meals with Wallace at the governor’s mansion than I did with my family. Hunt, like Wallace, would invite legislators out to the governor’s mansion for dinner. He made it his mission to befriend and entertain those of us who were members of conservative and pro business wing of the House of Representatives.

  One night I was seated at the table with the Governor and his wife, Mrs. Helen. Hunt was at the head of the table and Mrs. Helen was at the opposite end. I was seated next to Mrs. Helen and visited with her during the meal. I have known some saintly women over my life but this lady exuded a genuine sweetness and Christian demeanor that was unmatched. You could tell that you were in the presence of a saintly and truly humble lady.

  Mrs. Helen was totally undeterred by the grandeur of being First Lady of Alabama. It was obvious that she would have much rather been cooking dinner at her modest home in Cullman County than living in the governor’s mansion with a host of servants at her beck and call.

  My mama taught me to thank your host for dinner. Therefore, at the end of the evening I looked for Mrs. Helen to thank her for the meal but she had disappeared. I asked the servants where she had gone and one of them directed me to the kitchen. As I entered the kitchen, lo and behold to my amazement Mrs. Helen was washing the dishes while four maids stood and watched her with bewilderment. The sweet first lady was so accustomed to taking care of her own cooking and washing that she could not bring herself to allow someone else to wait on her. The privileges and deference bestowed on the first lady were completely outside of her comfort zone.

  Helen Hunt was probably the sweetest and most genuinely humble first lady Alabama has ever known.

  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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