A lot of firsts for new Gov.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2003

MONTGOMERY &045; Newly inaugurated Gov. Bob Riley will have several &uot;firsts&uot; attached to his resume in future Alabama history books.

For one he is the first Clay Countian ever to be elected governor, for another, he is the first incumbent Congressman to be elected governor of this state.

Clay County’s only other claim to political fame is that it was the birthplace of Hugo Black, who served as U.S. Senator from Alabama and later was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only once before in my memory has a sitting Congressman given up his seat to run for governor. U.S. Rep. Ronnie Flippo of Florence ran for governor in 1990 but fared badly, finishing fourth.

And while I write this before the inauguration, I will be curious to see if the official program tells us how many governor’s Alabama has had since its admission to the union in 1819.

What number

is Bob Riley?

There is no agreement as to how Alabama governor’s are counted.

For example, should you count George Wallace four times or just once?

How about Bibb Graves, Big Jim Folsom, Fob James and Guy Hunt … all two-time governors?

Do they count as one or two?

And then there were those four times during the 20th Century that Alabama had acting governors. The State Constitution of 1901 provides that if the governor is out of state for more than 20 days the lieutenant governor automatically becomes acting governor.

Should they be counted as well?

This provision was triggered for the first time in 1904 when Gov. William Dorsey Jelks, gravely ill, was hospitalized out of state for 11 months and Lt. Gov. Russell Cunningham, served as governor.

In 1924 Gov. Bill Brandon chaired the state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention. That was the convention where &uot;24 votes for Oscar W. Underwood&uot; became a part of Alabama political lore.

The convention was deadlocked and a nominee was finally selected after a 21-day convention and 103 roll calls. Gov. Brandon was out of state for those 21 days, and for one day Lt. Gov. Charles McDowell (from whom descends Senate Secretary Charles McDowell &uot;Mac&uot; Lee) served as governor.

In 1967, Gov. Lurleen Wallace underwent cancer surgery at M.D. Anderson Clinic in Texas and was out of state for about two hours beyond the 20 day limit.

More as a joke than anything else, she insisted that Lt. Gov.Albert Brewer become acting governor, which he did.

Five years later in June, 1972, Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley became acting governor while Gov. George Wallace was hospitalized in Maryland following the attempt on his life. Beasley served for 32 days.

But back to my question about the number of governors we have had:

By counting multi-term governors but one time and discounting the acting governors other than Dr.Cunningham…who served almost a year … there have been 55 governors of the state … Riley, at least in my way of counting, is No. 56.

One of the good guys of state government is gone and I cannot resist giving him a send-off.

Jim Bennett, who held the office of Secretary of State for more consecutive years than any one

in history .. .from 1993 to 2003 … was a good public servant.

I will admit to being prejudiced.

Jim and I were fellow Capitol Reporters in the early 1960s … waging a friendly competition for stories but nearly always getting beat by Hugh Sparrow of the Birmingham News, who had been on the scene longer than we had been alive.

Jim later &uot;fell from grace&uot; as I frequently told him and left the

newspaper profession to go into politics.

As a legislator and as Secretary of State, he was one of the best.

At age 63 … I am wearing socks that old … I hope Jim has some more goals to achieve in the years ahead.

It would not be inappropriate to run a picture of Tom Radney of Alex City in the dictionary alongisde the definition of &uot;Yellow Dog Democrat.&uot;

Whatever else you might want to call Radney…and he has been called a lot of things … this colorful and controversial man is first and foremost a Democrat. The phrase &uot;good Republican&uot; is an oxymoron to him.

Radney’s party loyalty was impressively honored this past week when a host of Alabama Democratic heavyweights showered tributes on

him at a reception at the Capitol.

The guest list of &uot;Yellow Dogs&uot; was impressive…Gov. Don

Siegelman, former Gov. John Patterson, former U. S. Sen. Howell

Heflin, incoming Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and House Speaker Seth