INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
When Guy Hunt won the Governor’s race over Bill Baxley in 1986 it was well publicized that he was a part-time Primitive Baptist preacher. He was also billed as a part-time Amway salesman. These common man vocations appealed to the average Alabama voter. It was Hunt’s calling as a Baptist preacher that resonated warmly with his constituency. Alabamians are very religious and very Baptist.
Hunt had done surprisingly well as governor for four years and turned back Paul Hubbert’s Democratic challenge for his reelection to a second term in 1990. He worked hard to have an agenda and get some of it accomplished. He had a reasonable expectation of accomplishment.
During much of his first term the state legislature languished in the throws of a war over tort reform. Alabama was a plaintiff trial lawyer’s paradise. Trial lawyers were getting unheard of fairyland judgments out of some of our rural counties. We were labeled “Tort Hell” by Time Magazine and it caught on. We were in the national spotlight again.
Hunt was solidly on the side of business, against the plaintiff lawyers. Hunt was diligent to court pro business legislators and even though he did not grasp all the intricacies of state government or budgets he was good at generalities.
However, Hunt had one Achilles heel that he should have avoided. He was prideful. Hunt was under the illusion that he had been elected governor on his own. He was not aware of the old Wallace adage that more Alabamians vote against someone than for someone. That was definitely the case in Hunt’s election. They did not know who Guy Hunt was. They were simply so mad at the Democratic Party for haughtily handpicking Bill Baxley over Charlie Graddick, when Baxley did not get the most votes, they would have voted for Mickey Mouse.
As a preacher Hunt should have known the old proverb, “pride goeth before a fall.” He had become careless and had never had any personal money. His salary as governor was the most money he had ever made in his life and he got greedy. Hunt used the state airplane to make trips to churches around the country and kept the offerings given to him for personal use. This was a violation of the Ethics Act.
A very Democratic and ambitious Attorney General, Jimmy Evans, went after Hunt with a vengeance and impeached him in the middle of his second term. Lt. Governor Jim Folsom Jr. moved up to governor in 1992. Folsom quickly went to work to get elected governor on his own. He got along well with the Democratic legislature. He passed bold incentive tax abatements to lure Mercedes.
The plan we offered Mercedes to come to Alabama was generous. Most national business publications said we simply bought the plant. Regardless of how we got them here, Folsom got the credit. We did receive a lot of positive reaction from mainstream national media. It made us proud that this premier automaker chose Alabama for its largest plant. Folsom seemed in good shape to be elected governor in 1994.
Paul Hubbert was itching for another shot at the brass ring and entered the Democratic Primary against Folsom. It was a tough and expensive primary, but Folsom prevailed. He was ready for battle in the general election. Guess who was coming to the battle, old Fob James, who had been elected governor as a Democrat in 1978 even though most people knew he was really a Republican. He ran a strong third in the Democratic Primary in 1990, receiving mostly conservative votes.
The Republicans had by now elected a governor and were holding primaries. Fob decided it was time that he came out of the closet and came home. Fob James was the Republican nominee to face Folsom in the November general election.
Just like four years earlier when Hubbert had been weakened in a Democratic brawl between Siegelman, Fob, and Flippo, Folsom was weakened by Hubbert’s challenge. He had to start raising money all over again. However, it looked like Folsom would still win. He was favored and polls showed him winning with five days left.
However, when the votes were tallied, Fob had pulled off an upset razor thin victory. The margin of his win was less than one point. Regardless of how close it was Fob won the 1994 Governor’s Race. Fob had won a second term as governor. He would become the first and probably only person in state history to be elected governor both as a Democrat and as a Republican.
See you next week.
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 www.steveflowers.us.