INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers
While observing the legislature the other day, I fondly remembered a very eventful day as a youth. As a teenager, I grew up working at the Capitol as a Page in the House and Senate.
Albert Brewer had been elected to the House from Morgan County in his late 20’s and became Speaker in only his second term. He would eventually let me sit beside him in the Speaker’s box and tell me why certain bills were assigned to the proper committee and the probable fate of the proposed legislation.
Brewer ran for lieutenant governor and won in 1966. At that time, the lieutenant governor not only presided over the Senate, he controlled it with help from Governor George Wallace. Brewer took me with him over to the Senate and made me head of the Senate Pages. Brewer confided in me and made me somewhat of an aide de camp at age 15.
I had also become acquainted with our young, fiery, dynamic governor, George Wallace, who will go down in history as probably Alabama’s greatest politician. Wallace had a remarkable ability for remembering people’s names.
On this particular day, I was roaming around the Capitol with one of my Page buddies from Anniston when Wallace bounced out of his office and asked if I and my friend wanted to have lunch with him. He was swarmed by people as he ate his lunch in the old cafeteria in the basement of the Capitol. Wallace’s practice was to campaign in barber shops and beauty parlors all over the state. He asked me about every barber in Pike County by name and then turned to my friend and asked him about every barber in Anniston by name. It was amazing. He also had a habit of eating a hamburger steak every meal. It is not uncommon for folks to put ketchup on hamburger steak, but I watched in amazement when he poured ketchup all over his black-eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread too. He put ketchup on everything he ate. Heinz missed a good chance by not using him in a commercial.
I was on cloud nine after getting to have lunch with the Governor of Alabama. I bragged to every state senator and then meandered out to the rotunda where the legendary Miss Mittie sat on her bench knitting. She knew where every state senator and representative was at all times. We had become friends and she trusted me. As the lieutenant governor’s aide and head senate page, I needed to ask her where senators were from time to time. I proudly told Miss Mittie that I had eaten lunch with the Governor. Without missing a beat she said, “I guess that little sawed off so and so put ketchup on everything he ate.” The old lady not only knew where everybody was, she knew how the governor ate his food. This also told me she did not like Wallace.
The Senate was debating a bill that was important to Brewer and Wallace. A decision had to be made whether to break for supper. I had gotten to know the Senators pretty well. One was the most powerful member of the Senate, Joe Goodwyn from Montgomery. Old Joe had a serious drinking problem. Most nights he headed to his favorite spot, the Sahara Restaurant, for dinner and libations.
Gov. Brewer called the restaurant and old Joe headed back to the Capitol. Since Joe had been told his vote was urgent, he drove his Buick up the Capitol steps and made it almost to the Jefferson Davis star. His car’s transmission was on the second step. Minutes before we heard the news of old Joe’s spectacular arrival, I ambled out to ask Miss Mittie if she knew where Sen. Goodwyn was. She said, “Somebody parked in his parking place and he had to park on the Capitol steps.” It was obvious to me that she did not like Wallace, but she liked old Joe Goodwyn.
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.