As I stroll down the halls of the Alabama Senate during this current Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, I will stop and visit in the offices of my favorite legislative buddies. My favorite and first stop is with my longtime friend Jabo Waggoner. Jabo, being the Dean of the legislature, has the first prime corner office. He also chairs the agenda setting Rules Committee. Therefore, there is a throng of high priced lobbyists camped outside the door trying to get Jabo to put their bills on the Special Order Calendar.
Jabo and I will swap stories of bygone years and reminisce about past experiences. Jabo is a big sports fan and was a great college basketball player .In fact, Jabo was one of the founders and remains on the Board of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, which is located in downtown Birmingham. Jabo, Gene Hallman, and Edgar Welden were the pillars and founders of this prestigious Institution. One of Jabo’s and my favorite remembrances is going together to the Olympic Soccer Games held at Legion Field in Birmingham.
Recently while visiting Jabo, I thought, “I am with an Alabama political icon.” Jabo Waggoner has been in the Alabama Legislature for 50 years this year. Folks, that is an Alabama record. Jabo Waggoner is the longest serving legislator in Alabama history. He served 17 years in the Alabama House of Representatives and is in his 33rd year in the Alabama Senate.
Jabo was first elected to the Alabama Senate in 1990. The heart of his district has always been the entire city of Vestavia. He also represents parts of Homewood and Hoover. This is a very Republican area and therefore, Jabo is an arch Republican.
Jabo is revered in Jefferson County, but his popularity extends beyond Jefferson and Shelby counties. When Kay Ivey was running for Governor for the first time in 2018, she asked Jabo to be her titular campaign manager. He introduced her as she announced her candidacy.
Jabo is adored by his Senate colleagues, especially the younger state senators. They throng to him for tutoring and mentoring. The Senate leaders, Greg Reed of Jasper and Clay Scofield of Arab, seek his guidance on tricky senate maneuverings.
Jabo was the Republican Minority Leader of the State Senate from 1999 until the Republicans gained a legislative majority in 2010. He was the first Republican Majority Leader, then relinquished that role to be the Rules Chairman where he currently serves.
Jabo is married to his high school sweetheart Marilyn. They have been married for over 60 years. I have never met a more beautiful or sweeter lady than Marilyn Waggoner. They had four children, three sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Scott, died at an early age in an automobile accident.
Jabo and Marilyn are ardent members of the Homewood Church of Christ. They attend almost every Sunday and sit with Jabo’s best friend Dr. Swaid Swaid and his wife, Christy. Jabo’s and Marilyn’s children attend the same church.
Jabo Waggoner has done a lot for Jefferson County for over 50 years. It would take a book to chronicle his legislative accomplishments and good deeds. In the 1970’s Waggoner sponsored legislation which spearheaded the purchase of 45 blocks in downtown Birmingham for UAB’s expansion. UAB purchased this property, which was valued at $8.5 million at that time. There is no telling what that land is worth today – probably well over $200 million to $300 million.
Jabo was first elected to the legislature in 1966. It is no coincidence that UAB has grown into one of the premier medical and research institutions in America and the Crown Jewel of Alabama during that same period. Although Jabo is an arch conservative Republican, he has forged a close working relationship with his fellow Democratic Senate leader Roger Smitherman to work across the aisle for the good of Jefferson County.
In closing, in all my years of following Alabama politics, I have never seen a more modest or amicable leader than Jabo Waggoner, Jr. I have never seen or heard of anyone who has ever met Jabo that did not like him. Jabo Waggoner is an icon of Alabama political history.
See you next week.