INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
When Jim Bennett left the Secretary of State’s office earlier this year, he set the record for the longest serving Secretary of State in the state’s history. His 12 years in the office surpassed the legendary ladies, Agnes Baggett and Mabel Amos, who would rotate between State Treasurer and Secretary of State over the years.
Jim also served five terms in the legislature prior to being appointed Secretary of State. He was elected to two four-year terms and then appointed by different governors to serve out unexpired terms. He and Fob James are the only two people to be elected to statewide constitutional offices as both a Democrat and as a Republican.
Fob won the governorship once as a Democrat and then later as a Republican. Jim won the Secretary of State’s office under the two banners. Jim won his first political race in 1978 as a State Representative from Homewood and parts of Jefferson County. We got to know each other in the early 1980’s when we served in the House of Representatives together. He moved to the Senate in 1983. He always had a calm demeanor and was a well-respected legislator who worked to get things accomplished rather than pandering and posturing. He had seen a lot of that as a reporter covering state politics in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Jim began as a reporter with the Birmingham Post-Herald. He covered the capitol with some legendary political writers. He also covered the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham. He was there for all the momentous Civil Rights events, including the infamous time that Bull Conner ordered the fire department to use high pressure hoses on peaceful protestors in 1963. He was standing next to Bull Conner when he ordered the hoses. During that era, he interviewed Martin Luther King and George Wallace on the same day.
Besides being Secretary of State longer than anyone in the state’s 200 year history, Jim also served as Alabama’s Labor Commissioner under both Gov. Bob Riley and Gov. Robert Bentley. He has served on the board of his alma mater, Jacksonville State, for over two decades. He is currently chairman of that board. When he arrived as a freshman at Jacksonville State, almost 60 years ago as an 18 year old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, he enrolled in pre-med. He later gravitated to journalism. Little did he know that he would make his mark on Alabama politics.
Another Alabamian, Al Head, has left his mark on Alabama government. In February, Al celebrated 30 years as Director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He has spent his entire professional career in the Arts – 44 years to be exact. He spent his first professional years in Florida before settling in as his home state’s Director of Arts in early 1985.
Al majored in art education at Troy State University, which was an unusual major for an all-American quarterback. He was the all-American boy. He grew up in Troy. He was popular and handsome, as well as the best athlete in town. He married his high school sweetheart, Judy Mayr, a beautiful cheerleader. They were the perfect couple. They have been married 44 years.
While Al was the quarterback at Troy, he set school records and led the Trojans to a National Championship. As the State Arts Director he has set the standards high with limited funding. He has been a visionary and a leader. He has been responsible for groundbreaking initiatives that have made our state council one of the foremost councils in the United States.
Al Head has done an excellent job in his lifework heading the Council on the Arts for 30 years. His long range planning and support for the arts in communities throughout the state has enhanced the quality of life in Alabama for over three decades. At 66, he is in good health and has no plans to retire any time soon, which is good for Alabama.
In other state political news, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange has won reelection to another four-year term as mayor of Alabama’s Capitol City. It was an impressive victory for Mayor Strange. He defeated four opponents without a runoff.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.