For lo the winter is past The rain is over and gone The flowers appear on the earth The time of the singing of birds is come And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
A few weeks ago former Alabama Chief Justice Perry O. Hooper Sr. died at his home in Montgomery at age 91. He was the epitome of the southern gentleman. He was also one of the founding fathers of the modern Republican Party in Alabama.
Last week we talked about how difficult it is to win passage of a legislative act. It does not matter if the proposed legislation is for apple pie and motherhood. If for nothing else, the bill has to go before both House and Senate committees, win approval, and not get an amendment put on it. If it gets an amendment on it, it has to basically start all over again. It then has to get placed on the special order calendar set by the Rules Committee. There are hundreds of bills waiting to get on this calendar. Only a few bills ever get on the calendar each day and there are only 30 legislative days in the session. If it gets on the calendar, it then has to pass both chambers. Hopefully the governor is also for apple pie and motherhood, because if he vetoes it, it has to start all over again.
I have attended a lot of graduations--my share and somebody else's.
(This is the fourth and last in a series of columns that trace the history of efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Alabama. What follows is an updated and expanded version of an article by the author that first appeared in The Anniston Star back in 2008.)
For the past five or six years the legislature has pretty much cut state government to the bone. One of the areas that legislators have taken an ax to are Alabama's cultural heritage agencies. These organizations throughout the state have taken it on the chin. There is an informal partnership of seven state agencies that have sought to educate Alabamians about the importance of our rich and dynamic history. The alliance comprises the Alabama Agricultural Museum in Dothan, Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park in Brierfield, Tannehill Ironworks State Park in McCalla, the Historic Blakely Authority in Spanish Fort, the historic Chattahoochee Commission in Eufaula, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile and the St. Stephens Historical Commission in St. Stephens. This alliance's membership of educational institutions represents nearly two centuries of combined service to Alabamians in promoting and preserving the state's history. These institutions have played a significant role in the cultural life of our state by educating residents and visitors to the state about our past. Their work runs the gambit from Alabama's rich Native American history to its formative years and the important role in the Civil War to the vital role of the agriculture and iron industries in Alabama's development. They preserve some of our state's most special places and provide a crucial resource for educators. They are preserving Alabama's heritage. In fact, the tourism dollars generated annually by these agencies more than offset the modest appropriations they formally receive from the legislature. These agencies' core functions are educational in nature. These cultural history agencies are small potatoes in state spending. However, our state roads are another story and they are falling apart. At least 15% of the state's urban roads are in very poor condition and another 35% are rated as mediocre. This is according to a recent report from TRIP, a national transportation research group. The same study revealed that 25% of Alabama's bridges are deemed structurally deficient. Since 2012 the state has had a windfall in federal money to help with our road and bridge building in the state. This joint federal state project known as ATRIP, an acronym for Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, has been a godsend for rural roads in the state. Many a county commissioner has praised the lord for this manna from heaven. This program has been a $1 billion boost to help counties repair and improve roads and bridges. However, ATRIP is coming to an end. Our state road program and entire transportation is funded totally with revenue from gasoline taxes. In fact, they are separate from the General Fund and operate autonomously from the rest of the state agencies. The Alabama Department of Transportation has been a good steward with its money. It has put its resources into proper projects without regard to politics. In past years, governors used road projects to reward their friends and punish their enemies. The current Bentley administration has chosen a businessman to head the agency and the agency has made the most important arteries and roadways a priority. The current gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon has been the same since 1993. As you know, things like equipment and materials have gone up significantly since then. In addition, more fuel-efficient cars have hit the road causing a decrease in revenue. Some legislators and mayors are seeking a gas tax increase in either this year or next year's legislative session. During legislative sessions a good many of you have asked why straightforward, no-nonsense, good-government legislation fails to pass even though it appears to have universal and overwhelming support. You will remember old sayings you heard from your elders when you were young. One of these sage adages, "It takes an act of congress," pertains to getting something accomplished. In politics, there is no clearer truism. It is hard to pass a piece of legislation through congress and it is as equally difficult to channel a bill through the labyrinth of legislative approval in Alabama. Ask any successful lobbyist or legislator which side they would rather be on in legislative wars and they will tell you that they much prefer to be against a bill than trying to pass it. It is much harder to steer a bill through the legislative process than it is to kill a bill. The Senate rules are such that if a handful of the 35 senators are adamantly opposed to something then they can easily kill the bill. That is why nothing much happens in the legislature. See you next week. Steve Flowers' weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
(This is the third in a series of columns that trace the history of efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Alabama. What follows is an updated and expanded version of an article by the author that first appeared in The Anniston Star back in 2008.)
At this time of year Washington, D.C. is a beautiful place to visit. The city is aglow with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees. The cherry blossoms offer a glorious scene as you stroll down the mall and look toward our nation's capital. This scene has been glimpsed by tourists and visitors for over a century.
As the budget hearings began for the 2016 Legislative Session in January the largest Powerball lottery sweepstakes in American history was playing out. It was one of the biggest news stories of the year, thus far.
(This is the second in a series of columns that trace the history of efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Alabama. What follows is an updated and expanded version of an article by the author that first appeared in The Anniston Star back in 2008.)
Some of you may have seen and remember the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. In the comedy, Murray awakens on Groundhog Day and has the identical day that he had the previous year, similar to Yogi Berra's colloquial saying of "déjà vu all over again." Well folks, this year's legislative session began on Groundhog Day and it is déjà vu all over again. It is like it is last year again.
(This is the first in a series of columns that trace the history of efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Alabama. What follows is an updated and expanded version of an article by the author that first appeared in The Anniston Star back in 2008.)
As the saga of Gov. Robert Bentley played out in the press and in the "social media" (a term I love to hate) I could not help but think about how the Bentley scandal compares to scandals of past politicians who governed in and around Alabama.
There appears to be very little interest in promoting an effort to impeach Governor Robert Bentley.
Like most high schools, the one my daughter attends holds a senior prom.
In early 2009 Dr. Robert Bentley came to see me about his race for governor of Alabama. Bentley was finishing his second term in the Alabama House of Representatives and closing down his very successful dermatology practice in Tuscaloosa.
In the past this was the time of year when, all along the sandy stretch from Mobile Bay to St. Andrews Bay, beach businesses were gearing up for the weeks of profits that would fill coffers depleted during the lean months of winter.
This has been an exciting election year when it comes to presidential politics. It has been an extraordinarily unusual and unpredictable presidential contest to say the least, especially on the Republican side.
In the past this was the time of year when, all along the sandy stretch from Mobile Bay to St. Andrews Bay, beach businesses were gearing up for the weeks of profits that would fill coffers depleted during the lean months of winter.
In the literary classic, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," the author draws parallels to a nation that was on top of the world and because of perverse, grandiose and pompous behavior that dynasty self-destructed and destroyed itself. It was from reading this documentary that the Russian premier Khrushchev believed that we, the United States, would destroy ourselves, thus causing him to brashly declare, "We will bury you."
A good friend and loyal reader suggested to me that he would like to see a column titled, "Where Are They Now?" Then I ran into former Gov. Albert Brewer at a Birmingham restaurant and it prompted me to do that column. Gov. Brewer has always been admired by Alabamians as one of the finest people to have ever served in state government. I got to know Gov. Brewer when I was a young page in the Alabama House of Representatives and Brewer was a youthful Speaker of the House. In fact, he has the distinction of being the youngest Speaker in state history. He was elected to the House from Morgan County at 28 and became Speaker during only his second term at age 33. In 1966, he was elected lieutenant governor. While serving as lieutenant governor, Lurleen Wallace succumbed to cancer and Brewer became governor in 1968. He ran for a full term in 1970. In the most memorable and momentous governor's race in history, Brewer and George Wallace clashed. He led Wallace in the initial voting but Wallace overtly played the race card and overcame Brewer in the runoff to become governor again. Brewer made another run for governor in 1978 but Fob James came out of nowhere to defeat the three B's, Bill Baxley, Jere Beasley and Albert Brewer. Since leaving politics, Gov. Brewer returned to the practice of law then began teaching at Samford's Cumberland School of Law, where he has counseled and mentored students and young lawyers, including my daughter Ginny, for more than 20 years. Gov. Brewer has remained active in governing in Alabama through the Public Affairs Research Council. At 87, he is in good health and enjoys his life in Birmingham. Another former governor, John Patterson, is 94. He lives on his ancestral land in Goldville in rural Tallapoosa County. Patterson has the distinction of being the only man to beat George Wallace in a governor's race. Wallace was a fiery circuit judge from Barbour County and Patterson was a squeaky-clean law and order segregationist young attorney general. Patterson beat Wallace soundly in that 1954 race and became the youngest governor in state history. He was only 33 years old when he took office as governor in January of 1955. He was dubbed the "boy governor." Patterson was later appointed and then elected to the Alabama Court of Appeals and served with distinction as a jurist for over 20 years. He is enjoying his golden years on his farm and has a pet goat named Rebecca, who came to his house out of the blue and took up with him. Rebecca follows Patterson wherever he goes. She watches him intensely and animatedly seems to engage in conversation. Former Gov. Fob James is enjoying his retirement years at his Butler County farm and at Orange Beach. Fob actually retired about 40 years ago at age 40 when he and his brother, Cal, sold their Opelika industry, Diversified Products. Fob chose to spend his personal money to surprise Baxley, Beasley and Brewer in 1978 to win the governor's race in one of the most notable gubernatorial contests in state political history. Fob was elected governor again in 1994. He is the only person in state history to win the governor's race first as a Democrat then as a Republican. Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 1970 at age 28. He became not only the youngest person elected attorney general in Alabama history but he was the youngest state attorney general in the nation's history. Baxley served two terms as attorney general from 1970 to 1978, then came back as lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1986. Baxley has a successful law practice in Birmingham and is doing well at age 75. At age 66, Jim Folsom, Jr. is the youngest former governor. He and Marsha live in their native Cullman. They both look great, as always, and are enjoying their life. Perry Hooper Sr., who was one of the founders of the modern Republican Party in Alabama, is 90. He is retired and living in his beloved Montgomery. He became probate judge of Montgomery County with the 1964 Goldwater Republican landslide. He later became the first Republican Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and paved the way for our current day all Republican Supreme Court. See you next week. Steve Flowers'weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
The news of Nelle Harper Lee's death reminded me of the times I almost met her, but didn't. The first was in 1962. I was a sophomore at Marion Military Institute and the editor of the school literary magazine. The magazine's advisor suggested that we include a couple of interviews with Alabama authors. I suggested Harper Lee. Now let me say that at the time all I knew of Harper Lee was that she had written a book that I had not read, and she had won some prize for it. And that she lived in Monroeville. Well, I knew Monroeville. It was about 30 miles east of my hometown. I visited there frequently, paying court to a young lady who eventually rejected my overtures and went on to live a productive and happy life without me. So, with unrequited love and geography on my side, I told the editorial board that I would go unto Monroeville, look up the author, and get the interview. Thus, without fear or knowledge or letter of introduction, I drove to Monroeville. Ah, the audacity of youth. I arrived, inquired at the local Dairy Bar where I might find the Lee home, and was directed to it. That was when the fear overtook me. I drove by it, turned around, drove by again, and again, but I simply could not bring myself to stop, go up to the front door, knock, and if Miss Lee herself did not answer, ask to speak to her. So I drove away. Over the years, as her fame grew, I rationalized my cowardice by telling myself that the author was probably in New York and vowed that if I ever got the chance again, I would make that visit. I never did. Years later, when a Monroeville friend told me that Harper Lee was signing copies of her book for sale at the Courthouse Museum, I ordered one. A short time later, when she discovered that someone was selling what she signed on eBay at a jacked-up price, she quit the signing. However, when I got my copy, I was bold enough to write and thank her. She replied with the first of the few letters we exchanged. By then her health was deteriorating, her eyesight was failing, and she was on the path that led to the assisted living facility where she spent her last days. It was in this interval that another friend told me that she could arrange a visit and advised me that when that visit took place I should bring fresh fruit, especially berries. But each planning was derailed by something. Meanwhile I followed with interest the controversy that surrounded Marja Mills's book The Mockingbird Next Door, which some folks close to the Lee sisters (Nelle and Alice) said was more fiction than fact. I wanted to believe otherwise, because among the books Miss Lee supposedly recommended for Mills to read if she wanted to understand Alabama was one of mine. I thought I'd ask her about that when we met. Then Go Set a Watchman was published, and up boiled the controversy over an Atticus who was not the racially tolerant paragon of virtue that appeared in To Kill a Mockingbird. If I visited, would that come up? The Atticus in Watchman was like so many men of my father's generation who sincerely believed in the system that we, the enlightened young, came to question. But I never visited, so it never came up. Just as well, for as we say down in south Alabama, some swamps just don't need draining. Now she is gone. And I am left to wonder what we would have talked about if I had dropped by. Probably Alabama history and the things our adjacent counties have in common. We might have gotten a chuckle over why the boundary between the counties does not follow the river, as boundaries usually do, a variation that gave her county the best bottom land but also Packer's Bend, which was once a bootleggers paradise. I could have told her the story of the probate judge in my county who died in the arms of his political rival's wife, and she could have told me . . . I will never know. I did not go to her funeral. I don't do funerals well. My sainted mother once told me she had hoped I would be a preacher, but by the time I reached my teens she had given up on that. For my part, I think the funeral aspect of a preacher's duties would have been what did preaching in for me. They sent her off as she wanted to be sent off--with as little fuss as possible. Some folks say that Harper Lee was Scout, the narrator of her novel. Others say she was Boo. I think I'll go with Boo. Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
There was the headline.
One of the finest men to ever serve in Alabama government is Albert Brewer. He is one of the most quality and highest caliber individuals to ever rise to the governor's office. Brewer hailed from Morgan County in the heart of the Tennessee Valley. He was first elected to the legislature from Decatur in 1958 at the very young age of 28. He was identified early as a rising star. In fact, his star was meteoric. During his second term in 1962, he was elected speaker of the House at age 32. An unheard of feat. Besides being on a political fast track by the time he was in mid-30s, Brewer was also considered one of the best attorneys in Decatur. He is a kind, considerate, and genuinely sincere man with the most pleasant and contagious smile and countenance. Once you meet Albert Brewer you immediately warm up to him and like him. His smile and disposition can melt the most hardened enemy. Gov. Brewer became especially dear to me. When I first met Gov. Brewer, I was a 12-year-old page from Troy and Brewer was speaker of the House. My mentor and sponsor was my representative from Troy, Mr. Gardner Bassett. Mr. Gardner was in his 70s and he loved Brewer. Since Mr. Gardner and I were close, he got me acquainted with the young speaker from Morgan County. Brewer graciously took me under his wing and would let me run special errands for him. Occasionally he even let me sit next to him in the presiding officer's chair. This pleased Mr. Gardner because he had told Brewer of my love of politics and that when Mr. Gardner retired that I would run for and take his House seat. That is eventually what happened. Therefore, it was no secret to Brewer that I aspired to get into politics and eventually run for the legislature. He and Mr. Gardner would share legislative stories and history with me. When Brewer became lieutenant governor in 1966, he took me over to the Senate with him to be head of the pages. This allowed me to work in the legislature during the summer while growing up. One day Brewer said he wanted to tell me a campaign secret. He began his lesson by explaining that when you get ready to run for the legislature you should start your campaign in the country. He then explained why. It was based on the old bandwagon theory. He said people in the rural towns and hamlets have more time on their hands. They like politics better than their neighbors in the city. They talk more, they appreciate your interest more and they want to be asked for their vote. Therefore, if you work the rural community first, they talk about you being there and they will commit to you early. At that time, if a person in a rural area told you they were going to vote for you, you could take that to the bank. Therefore, if you got there first, you could wrap up that area early and forever. Another big plus of working the country first was that whenever any person from that rural box came into the larger town or county seat to shop or get their haircut and the city folks asked about politics out their way, the rural man would say, "I don't know about the other races but that Brewer boy is going to get all the votes up here for that open legislative seat." Then the bandwagon domino theory was on. The city folks assumed that if all the country folks were for someone that candidate was bound to win in a landslide so they better get on board too. That was a good lesson. I took Gov. Brewer's advice in my first race and I got 82% of the vote over two opponents. By the way, Gov. Brewer is doing well today. After years as a successful practicing attorney, he went on to become a professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. My daughter had the opportunity to get to know the governor while she was in law school at Cumberland. She took several classes he taught, worked with him on the Alabama Constitutional Law Project, and still looks to him as a mentor. Gov. Brewer still has that endearing warm smile and personality. He is a prince of a fellow. See you next week. Steve Flowers' weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
This week Alabama held its primary elections.
You know the outcome of our presidential preference primary held yesterday. I do too, today. However, this column had to go to press a few days prior to the primary. Therefore, I will have to report and analyze your voting in a later column.
“Send me a letter, send it by mail”
The presidential primary parade has been colorful and fun to watch this year. It has been even more amusing because of the pervasive presence of one Donald Trump and the fact that those of us in the Heart of Dixie have a front row seat to the show.
We are only a few weeks away from our March 1st primary. We have an early primary date this year due to the fact that we are in the SEC Presidential Primary. Therefore, we will have some say in who will be the GOP and Democratic nominees.
You may have read about "The Great Renaming Craze of 2015."
We all want our public officials to be ethical.
There are a good many stories about elections of the 1940s and '50s where votes were bought and elections stolen. The most brazen and blatant stealing of an election occurred in the 1948 race for the U.S. Senate in Texas. The players were Coke Stevenson versus Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, it can also be classified as one of the most relevant robberies in American history because if Johnson had lost, as he was supposed to, it would have dramatically impacted U.S. history.
Among the many things we lost when the Mobile daily newspapers were shut down (don’t get me started on that), we lost the frequent articles by naturalist-gardener-horticulturist-scientist Bill Finch, who carried readers through the seasons with style, grace and a lot of good information about plants and planting.
As discussed last week, several of the headline Alabama news stories of 2015 may also be the blockbusters of 2016. The Mike Hubbard trial and the decision of the federal courts on Alabama’s legislative district lines will be determined in the first half of this year.
A good many of the news stories that were the most noteworthy events of 2015 will continue into this new year of 2016 and may repeat as the major headlines of this year.
I occasionally get letters from readers.
Last week we discussed the presidential race. The GOP race for the nomination has been one of the most illuminating in history. Never before have political novices been the frontrunners. It is obvious that voters prefer an outsider with no governmental experience. Donald Trump and Ben Carson would both be considered outsiders, both lacking in political experience and skills and Trump lacking tact. No matter what they say or what amateurish blunders they make, they doggedly cling to their lead in the polls.
Those of you who follow this column know that I am a dog lover.
Folks, we are in the midst of a presidential race. It has been ongoing for well over a year. We will select a new president in November. Barack Obama has served his eight-year limit. Thus, the parade of candidates seeking to occupy the Oval Office has been long, especially on the Republican side.
I am not a late night person.
As we close the final page on the 2015 book, my year-end tradition is to reminisce about the passing away of significant players on the Alabama political stage.
As we look back over the past year's political events one week stands out. During one week in the middle of 2015, three momentous events occurred. All three came down bang, bang, bang in the week leading up to the fourth of July.
'Tis the season of traditions.
Wasn't even Thanksgiving, and Christmas lights were up.
This week we will conclude our analysis of the potential horses in the 2018 Alabama Gubernatorial Derby.
This week we will continue our analysis of the potential horses in the 2018 Alabama Gubernatorial Derby. So far, we have counted down from 18 to 8. In descending order the list includes, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (18), Supreme Court Justice Jim Main (17), Sen. Greg Reed (16), Sen. Arthur Orr (15), Mayor Vaughn Stewart (14), Mayor Walt Maddox (13), Mayor Sandy Stimpson (12), Congressman Bradley Byrne (11), Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (10), Sen. Del Marsh (9), and State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan (8). The next four horses will be revealed today, and we will conclude the series next week when we reveal the top three.
They're pulling up sea oats, to plant condominiums
Recently I wrote about all the different people at different times predicting that the world is about to end.
This week we will continue counting down and handicapping the prospective horses in the 2018 Alabama Gubernatorial Derby. We handicapped the following horses in descending order last week, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (18), Supreme Court Justice Jim Main (17), Sen. Greg Reed (16), Sen. Arthur Orr (15) and Mayor Vaughn Stewart (14).