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Opinion | Governor John Patterson’s first lesson

Governor Patterson learned a lesson from that experience: never say never.

Former Alabama Gov. John Patterson

Governor John Patterson, who passed away earlier this year at 99, shared a funny story that occurred during the opening days of his administration.

He entered the governor’s office in January 1959 as the clean government, strict law enforcement governor. He followed Big Jim Folsom’s second administration, which had been less than perfect when it came to favoritism, nepotism and corruption. Patterson was determined to run a clean ship.

His first day as governor he called his cabinet in for a pep talk and told them to run their departments aboveboard and free of any semblance of favoritism. He dismissed them and told them to get to work running the state. He turned to his new public safety director, Floyd Mann, and asked him to stay behind. Floyd Mann was a well-respected man in Alabama politics. He had been chief of police in Opelika prior to Patterson appointing him head of the highway patrol. Mann and Patterson were lifelong friends. They had grown up and gone to school together in Tallapoosa County.

Patterson looked at his friend and said: “Floyd, under no circumstances are we going to fix any tickets during my administration. Do you understand?”

Mann went on his way to his first day as public safety director and supervisor of the highway patrol. That was about 11:00 a.m. About 2:30 in the afternoon the new governor got a message that he had had a call from senior U.S. Sen. Lister Hill. Within 30 minutes he had a message that Sen. John Sparkman had called as well as Congressmen George Andrews and Frank Boykin. He assumed that all our distinguished congressional delegates were calling to wish him well on his first day as governor.

When he called these four, very powerful, Washington solons back, he learned that an equally powerful congressman from Missouri had been detained and indeed arrested in South Alabama. The congressman had been vacationing in Florida with his family and had been driving back to Missouri when he was caught speeding in Conecuh County. At that time, an out-of-state driver could not sign his own bond in Alabama, so the good congressman had been detained for more than three hours with his family waiting to locate a justice of the peace. The congressman was upset, to say the least. Hill and Sparkman were somewhat tactful with the new governor. They simply suggested that the speeder was a powerful and important member of Congress and that it would be helpful to them if Patterson could help their colleague get back on his way home to Missouri. Frank Boykin was more direct. He informed Patterson that this congressman chaired the committee that oversaw all the appropriations for waterways. He further explained that he and Senators Hill and Sparkman had been working diligently for years to get funding for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the project was pending in this congressman’s committee at this time.

Patterson called Mann and said, “Floyd can you come over here a minute?” When Mann arrived in the governor’s office Patterson told his buddy, “You know, Floyd, when I told you this morning not to fix any tickets? Well, we’ve had a change in policy.” The no-ticket-fixing policy of the Patterson administration lasted four hours.

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Mann dispatched a trooper to not only release the congressman but to give him a trooper escort out of the state.

Patterson learned a lesson from that experience – never say never. He also should be given some credit for obtaining funding for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

A similar story was told to me by former congressman, Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff, and recently crowned chancellor of the University of South Alabama, Jo Bonner. He was a new congressman from Mobile-Baldwin. The district has had some illustrious congressmen, including Frank Boykin, Jack Edwards, Sonny Callahan, and Jo Bonner himself. Edwards, Callahan and Bonner were all good friends and they were headed to the famous annual Frank Boykin gathering in Washington County. It fell to the new congressman, Bonner, to drive. As they were heading back to Mobile, Bonner noticed a blue light in the rearview mirror. Callahan had already told Bonner he was driving too fast.

A deputy sheriff pulled them over and looked in the window and before he asked for Bonner’s driver’s license, he saw Sonny in the backseat and asked, “Sir, aren’t you Congressman Callahan?” Then looked next to Callahan and asked, “Aren’t you Congressman Edwards?” Callahan and Edwards assured the deputy that he was correct. Then they proceeded to tell the deputy that the driver and third member of this trio was a congressman and new one and that the deputy should give him a ticket.

See you next week.

Written By

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.

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