Politics is not a Spectator Sport

(Especially in Alabama)

Print This Post Print This Post

There are many who lay claim to the words in the title of the essay. Trying to ascertain the true identity of who first uttered these words is an exercise in futility. In Alabama there are two blood sports – college football and politics. With the 2018 General Election less than three months away this edition of The Strategy Report will look at various races in state-wide offices and some of the more interesting tricks/tactics used by candidates and their campaigns to try and get the candidate elected.


As the election of 1966 rolled around there were several factors in play. George Wallace was completing his first term as Governor of Alabama and at that time the Constitution did not allow statewide, constitutional, officers to succeed themselves. Wallace did not want to give up the power he enjoyed as Governor and decided to run his wife, Lurleen, to succeed him. All indications pointed to a very competitive Democrat Primary until the very untimely, and tragic, death of Ryan DeGraffenried, Sr. of Tuscaloosa. DeGraffenried had just finished a campaign stop in Gadsden and was leaving the Gadsden airport on a private plane. Shortly after takeoff his plane went down killing him.

Lurlene Wallace cruised to a victory in the Democrat Primary set to face U.S. Representative Jim Martin in the November General Election. It is important to remember that the 1966 elections were the first elections after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and thus the first time that, as they were called in 1966, the negros could vote. With George Wallace’s historic stand in the school house door looming over his wife’s campaign the Wallace machine devised a plan to ensure that Lurleen would win the Election. Being the first time many of the new voters had ever voted the Wallace campaign set out to “assist” these new voters at the polls. It has been told that the Wallace folks would take these new voters in the voting booth and tell them “You don’t want to vote for that Wallace woman do you? Good, let’s just X her out”. A blind man, in hindsight, can see what the result was and Lurleen Wallace became the first woman elected Governor of Alabama. In that same election Albert Brewer was elected as Lt. Governor. Few had any idea how monumental that would become on election night. Two years later Lurleen Wallace died of cancer and Brewer ascended to the Governor’s Office.


After the death of Lurlene Wallace Albert Brewer, then the Lt. Governor, ascended to the office of Governor. Brewer made the decision to run for a full term and was in a heated Primary race against former Governor George C. Wallace. Many have called the 1970 Governor’s race one of the nastiest in Alabama history. As the polls closed on Primary day neither Brewer or Wallace had received the 50% + 1 that was needed to avoid a runoff. Brewer ran a clean campaign on the issues and was thought to be a shining light in Alabama politics. Wallace, on the other hand, knew that to win the runoff he would have to go negative. The Wallace campaign had operatives that followed Governor Brewer’s wife around and started a whisper campaign that insinuated Mrs. Brewer had mental health issues. They also insinuated that Brewer’s daughter was dating a “negro”. At the end of the three-week runoff period Wallace was the Democrat nominee and back then that was tat-amount to election.


During Wallace’s second, nonconsecutive, term he was successful in passing a Constitutional Amendment that allowed Constitutional Officers to succeed themselves one time. That change in place Wallace made the decision to run for reelection. Following the assassination attempt on his life while campaigning for President in 1972 (a sometime forgotten fact is that when he was shot Wallace had more delegates to the Democrat convention pledged to him than all of the other candidates combined) the sympathy vote propelled Wallace to an easy victory.


The 1978 race for the Democrat nomination was a circus. Five candidates were the main players in the Democrat Primary – former Governor Albert Brewer, sitting Lt. Governor Jere Beasley, sitting Attorney General Bill Baxley, sitting State Senator Sid McDonald and businessman and political newcomer Fob James. Beasley was the early favorite with the support of the all-powerful Alabama Education Association. Common wisdom had one of the three “B’s” as an early favorite with all indications that Beasley would sail to victory. On the night of the Primary Beasley came in a distant fifth having peaked too early. Newcomer Fob James who had crisscrossed the state in a yellow school bus was the Democrat nominee. One of his campaign promises, which he would later regret, was that he would serve only one term. Elected as Lt. Governor that same year was former State Senator George McMillan. One of the issues he pushed hard for was to extend the runoff period from three weeks to six weeks. A decision he would later come to regret.


True to his word Fob James did not run for reelection in 1982. Instead the Democrats saw sitting Lt. Governor George McMillan and former Governor George Wallace as the two leading candidates on the Democrat ticket. Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar was the Republican nominee. After the Primary, Wallace and McMillan faced off in a runoff. The general consensus was, and still is, that if the runoff period had remained at three weeks McMillan would have been the nominee but with six weeks to run a dirty campaign with insinuations about McMillan’s lifestyle. Wallace narrowly pulled out a victory. McMillan was a victim of his own push to lengthen the runoff period. In November Wallace won an unprecedented fourth term.


The Democrat Primary and subsequent runoff could very well have been the spark of life the Alabama Republican Party needed. After a contentious Primary there was a runoff on the Democrat side between sitting Lt. Governor Bill Baxley and sitting Attorney General Chares Graddick. On the Republican side Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt, a former Amway salesman, was the nominee. In the Democrat runoff Baxley and Graddick faced off and the votes, when tallied, indicated that Graddick had won. At a victory party in Montgomery, Republican House Member from Montgomery Perry Hooper, Jr., while speaking to the NBC affiliate on camera, made the comment that he was at Graddick’s party to congratulate him because without the Republican crossover vote he would not have won. Because of Hooper’s comments, the Democratic Executive Committee refused to certify Graddick as the nominee and instead certified Baxley. The backlash was so strong that Hunt won a very unlikely victory in November and the Alabama Democratic Party has not been the same since that decision.


The election in 1990 was very uneventful and Hunt was reelected to a second term. After his victory the power went to his head and his son, who also served as head of his security detail, convinced his father that since he did not have another race to run he could do whatever he wanted without fear of repercussion. As often happens power tends to go to folks’ head and when Hunt was charged with violating some of the state’s ethics laws he responded “I am the Governor. Those laws do not apply to me.” WRONG! He was forced from office and Lt. Governor Jim Folsom, Jr. assumed the office of Governor.


The more things change the more they stay the same. 1994 saw the return of Fob James to the Governor’s race – this time not as a Democrat but as a Republican. James won the nomination in a bitter fight with Winton Blount, III. James campaign Chairman was Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar. Folmar and Blount’s father, Red Blount, were long-time friends both professionally and socially. The campaign got especially nasty and as it is said – the sheets were split forever between the two. Folsom won the Democratic nomination. In the General election James bested Folsom after a campaign that tied Folsom to Montgomery gambling magnate Milton McGregor.


In a race that is thought to be one of the three dirtiest in recent Alabama history (the first being the 1970 gubernatorial runoff) Harold See won election to the Alabama Supreme Court. See’s opponent in the General Election compared See to a skunk and ran ads that were highly offensive. At a victory dinner for See’s major supporters See thanked the crowd assembled and presented all present with a miniature skunk as a remembrance of the campaign. To date See is believed to be the only person elected to the Alabama Supreme Court that had not passed the Alabama Bar.


James did not make the same promise in his 1994 campaign that he would not run for reelection and was the nominee of the Republican Party. Sitting Lt. Governor Don Siegelman was the Democrat nominee After a bruising General Election Campaign Siegelman won the General Election. The Governor’s race was not the dirtiest campaign that year. It was the race for Lt. Governor that is possibly the dirtiest in all the recent history of politics in Alabama. Two sitting State Senators, Steve Windom (R) and Dwayne Freeman (D), faced off in the General Election. Forces supporting Freeman (namely former attorney Garve Ivy) payed a known prostitute in Mobile to accuse Windom of a long-term, physically abusive, relationship. Once the facts came to light Windom was vindicated with the help of the proof of payment from Ivy to the prostitute – a canceled check – and Windom won the General Election. During the Organizational Session of the Legislature in January 1997 Siegelman and his allies in the Senate stripped the Lt. Governor (Windom) of all power except that specifically authorized in the Alabama Constitution. The Lt. Governor has since been little more than a figurehead.


In the 2002 race for Governor Siegelman was the prohibitive favorite to retain the Democrat nomination for Governor but on the Republican side there was a very heated race in the Primary between sitting Lt. Governor Steve Windom and sitting U. S. Representative Bob Riley. Riley played his cards very close to the vest until very late in the process having Congressional Leadership come to Alabama purportedly to raise money for a Congressional reelection campaign. Once he had raised as much as he thought he could for his Congressional Campaign account he announced that he was retiring from Congress to run for Governor and converted his federal account to his race for Governor. Eventually Riley, running as a fiscal conservative, criticizing Siegelman for his proposed $500+ million tax proposal, won the Republican nomination and faced Siegelman in the General Election. In November 2002 Riley was elected as Governor. There were several rumors that significant funding for Riley’s campaign had come from Mississippi Indian tribes in an effort to have Riley limit the expansion of electronic bingo in Alabama. Shortly after he was inaugurated Riley proposed legislation that would become known as Amendment 1 that would have raised taxes more than $1.2 billion. That proposal went down is a huge defeat but earned Riley the nickname of “Billion Dollar Bob”.


In spite of his billion-dollar tax proposal Riley became a very popular Governor. In the 2006 General Election Riley faced sitting State Treasurer Lucy Baxley. Riley easily won that race. Shortly after the General Election Baxley suffered a stroke, Baxley later went on to win a term as President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. One of the main focuses during Riley’s second term was to work with then House Minority Leader and Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Mike Hubbard, to devise a strategy to have a Republican takeover of both the Alabama House and Alabama Senate in the 2010 election cycle.


In the 2010 General Election the total, figurative, dismantling of the Alabama Democratic Party came to fruition with the election of a super majority of Republicans in both the Alabama House and Alabama Senate. Riley, Hubbard and company surpassed even their own expectations. Two long-time Democrat fixtures in the Alabama Senate were defeated in surprise upsets – Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) and Lowell Barron (D-Fyffe). After the 2010 General Election every statewide office was held by a Republican. Super majorities were held by the Republicans in both the House and the Senate. Under Alabama law Members of the Legislature take office immediately after the vote is certified, not in January of the following year. In an effort to cement a legacy Governor Riley called the newly elected Legislature into a Special Session in December – while he was still the Governor for the purpose of rewriting the state’s ethics laws. In very hasty fashion the ethics statutes were amended and the Republican leadership, along with Riley, proclaimed that Alabama would be better for their work and that corruption among elected officials would be severely be curtailed.

In the race for Governor, in 2010, the fight between the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) took center stage. Former Chancellor of Post-Secondary Education and former State Senator Bradley Byrne was supported by BCA. Byrne had been a very vocal opponent of AEA and AEA was committed to ensuring that Byrne was not the Republican nominee. AEA was more committed to beating Byrne than they were to elect any other specific candidate in the Primary. Also running in the Republican Primary in 2010 were Tim James, the son of former two-time Governor Fob James, and sitting Alabama House Member Robert Bentley, MD. James campaigned on his business background and Bentley played off the fact that he was a physician with two primary messages – 1) that Alabama was sick and needed a doctor and 2) that he would not take a paycheck until the state was at full employment. Byrne and Bentley ended up in a runoff and AEA went all out, not to elect Bentley but to defeat Byrne. They were successful, and Bentley went on to win in November.


The only statewide race of any stature in 2012 was the race to elect the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The sitting Chief Justice was Chuck Malone. Malone had been a Circuit Judge in Tuscaloosa prior to Governor Bentley bringing him to Montgomery and serving as the Governor’s Legal Advisor. When the elected Chief Justice, Sue Bell Cobb, resigned midway through her first term Bentley appointed Malone to the vacancy. In the 2012 Republican Primary Malone ran for a full term. He was challenged by Mobile Circuit Judge and former Alabama Attorney General Charles Graddick (remember the 1986 Democrat runoff for Governor) and former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore had been removed from his first term for disregarding a Federal Court Order. Moore had run for Governor in 2006 and 2010 and had never broken approximately 35% of the vote. Conventional wisdom was that Graddick was the favorite and that if there were to be a runoff it would be between Graddick and Moore and Graddick would be expected to win. WRONG! Moore won the Primary without a runoff. Robert Vance, Jr, a sitting Circuit Judge in Jefferson County was substituted by the Alabama Democrat Party to run against Moore in the General Election and ended up losing that race by a very narrow margin. Moore would go on to once more be removed from the office as Chief Justice for openly disregarding a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States on same-sex marriage. Associate Justice Lynn Stuart was appointed to complete Moore’s term.


Less that one month before the 2014 General Election the Republican Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, was indicted on 23 counts of violating the very ethics laws that he and Governor Riley championed. Hubbard would later go on to win reelection to his House seat and ultimately reelection to the position of Speaker with only one dissenting vote in the Speaker’s race. Republicans made gains in their super majorities in both the House and Senate that cycle. Governor Bentley was reelected and almost immediately became the subject of rumors about his private life and relationship with his family. So bad was the situation that his then wife, Diane, almost did not attend the Inauguration in January 2015. It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


For a year without a regularly scheduled election 2017 was quite a year. With the election of Donald Trump as President and his appointment of Jeff Sessions as United States Attorney General there was a vacancy in the U. S. Senate. Then Governor Robert Bentley was to make an appointment to fill the seat until a Special Election to fill the remaining term of Sessions would be held. Bentley determined that the Special Election in the U. S. Senate race would be held in connection with the regularly scheduled Primary and General Elections in 2018. After interviewing numerous potential appointees Bentley appointed then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the vacant seat. Big Luther thought he was in the catbird seat having nearly 16 months before he would have to face the electorate. Fast forward a couple of months – 1) Bentley is removed from office, 2) Kay Ivey assumes the office of Governor and 3) Ivey, almost immediately, changes the dates of the Special Elections so that they will be held in 2017. Big Luther is screwed. Senior Alabama Senator Richard Shelby is not happy. Newly appointed Senator Luther Strange is not happy. Defrocked Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is ecstatic. Qualifying for the open Senate seat opens and there are several candidates that qualified. On the Republican side the two most prominent were then sitting Senator Luther Strange and former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Among those also qualifying on the Republican side was Huntsville Congressman Mo Brooks. On the Democrat side were Doug Jones, a former Obama era U. S. Attorney, and an unknown Mobile African American candidate whose name is Robert F. Kennedy. On the Democrat side Jones wins the Primary without a runoff. On the Republican side there is a runoff between Roy Moore and Luther Strange. Moore won the runoff and was set to face Doug Jones in the Special General Election. Only in Alabama can a situation arise similar to what happened in the Special General Election. Typically, in Presidential Elections, there is always an expectation of an “October Surprise”. Since this Special Election was scheduled for December the corresponding timeframe would be a “November Surprise”. BINGO! About five to six weeks before the election news broke about allegations that Roy Moore had been involved with underage teenage girls while he was an Assistant District Attorney (by the way this was when Moore was in his 30’s) and that because of his behavior that he had been banned from the Gadsden, Alabama Mall. These revelations were documented in numerous articles in the Washington Post and other news outlets. (As an aside, rumors of this behavior had circulated for more than 20 years but never surfaced in the press until the Washington Post articles). Labeled as a pedophile, Moore’s campaign tanked and the unthinkable happened in December, Doug Jones, the Democrat, won the Special General Election.


During the four years leading up to the elections in 2018 several things happened. Speaker Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 of the 23 charges of violating the ethics laws. Hubbard was removed from office and is awaiting a decision on his appeal from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. House Majority Leader Micky Hammon pled guilty to violating several federal charges, was removed from office and has served a three-month sentence in Federal Prison. State Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) pled guilty in Federal Court to a bribery scheme. The ensuing Federal trial of those accused of bribery has just concluded with the conviction of an attorney at a very prominent law firm and a well-respected lobbyist.

For whatever reasons there was an unprecedented number of Senators and Representatives who announced their retirement from the Alabama Legislature. It is anyone’s guess as to why this has happened but in the past few months two more Members of the Alabama House have been indicted and a Senator has been exposed as possibly having some ethical lapses though no indictment of the Senator has been forthcoming. There are swirling rumors that sitting Grand Juries, both State and Federal, may be investigating several Senators and Representative. Only time will tell what ultimately happens.

Governor Bentley resigned from office after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors and sitting Lt. Governor Kay Ivey became the Governor in the Spring of 2017. Governor Ivey announced her intention to run for a full term and immediately became the frontrunner. Ivey was challenged by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, sitting State Senator Bill Hightower, evangelist Scott Dawson and others. Ivey won the Primary without a runoff. On the Democrat side Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox defeated former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. One of the main issues in this race was a point made by Maddox that he “would never quit on Alabama”. A thinly veiled reference to Cobb’s resignation as Chief Justice.

The race between Ivey and Maddox in November is sure to be very competitive.

In the race for Chief Justice sitting Chief Lynn Stuart faced a challenge from Associate Justice Tom Parker. Parker has for years been very closely aligned with Roy Moore and the plaintiff bar. Most of Parker’s Contributions came from the Alabama Association for Justice PAC. Parker won a convincing victory over Stuart in the Primary setting up a race against Circuit Judge Bob Vance, Jr. With these two candidates the plaintiff bar is in a no-lose situation.

Several other statewide runoff elections on the Republican side were very contentious and became very dirty as the runoff date approached.

One set of races this year that did not attract significant attention were the races for seats on the Court of Criminal Appeals.  Three of the five seats on this Court will have new Judges seated come January. That is especially significant because the Court of Criminal Appeals has had in its possession the Appeal from former House Speaker Mike Hubbard for nearly two years without ruling on the pending appeal. If the sitting Court does not issue a decision before a new Court is seated, with a majority of the Judges being new, the new Judges will have to start from square one and Justice – confirming the trial Court or overruling the trial Court – will be further delayed. Politics aside, a decision needs to be made before the majority of the Court is new.


As was said in the opening paragraph – in Alabama there are two blood sports, college football and politics. All politics is local, but Alabama politics is different than any other in the country. Perhaps the following recitation best summarizes why Alabama politics holds such sway over those who are involved in it:

I have been bawled out, held up ,held down, hung up, bulldozed, blackjacked, walked on, cheated, squeezed and mooched; stuck for war tax, state dog tax and syntax; liberty bonds, baby bonds and the bonds of matrimony; red cross, green cross and the double cross; asked to help the woman’s relief corps, men’s relief and stomach relief. I have worked like hell and been worked like hell, have been drunk and gotten others drunk; lost all I had, and now because I won’t spend and lend all the little I earn and go beg, borrow or steal, I have been cussed, discussed, boycotted, talked to and talked about, robbed and damned near ruined, and the only reason I’m sticking around now is………………………….



The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC.


The Alabama House will reconvene at Noon on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 for its Organizational Session

 The Alabama Senate will reconvene at Noon on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 for its Organizational Session