Governors race lineup politically loaded

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2005

MONTGOMERY &045; If I have been asked once I have been asked a dozen times or more … have we ever had a lineup of such political heavyweights running for governor as awaits us in 2006?

There may well have been such a lineup of face cards in the distant past, but certainly nothing like this has happened since 1950, which was my first gubernatorial race to cover.

Look at the menu that awaits the voters next June: On the republican side we have the incumbent governor, Bob Riley, and the disrobed former chief justice Roy Moore; on the democratic side we have Lucy Baxley, our first woman lieutenant governor, and Don Siegelman, the former governor. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Every one of the 14 governor’s races I have covered or been involved in had a distinction … something that set them apart from the others.

For example, that first one … 1950 … sticks out because it attracted the most candidates in history. No less than 15 men sought the democratic nomination for governor, which at the time was the only election that mattered.

That primary was Alabama’s introduction to what I call the &8220;run-for-the-fun-of-it candidates&8221; &045; men who had no chance whatsoever of winning but were willing to cough up the miniscule qualifying fee just to get a little publicity.

A sidebar to that wild primary … there were so many candidates that the leader, Gordon Persons, polled only 33 percent of the vote. However, he was so far ahead of runner-up Phillip Hamm (with 15 percent) that Hamm decided not to contest the runoff. Talk about a minority governor … Persons was surely that.

If there was a race for governor that comes close to what awaits us next year it might have been the 1978 primary. George Wallace was serving his second consecutive term as governor and could not run again.

With him out of the way, the ’78 primary attracted an impressive array of hopefuls: The incumbent attorney general (Bill Baxley), the incumbent lieutenant governor (Jere Beasley) and a former governor (Albert Brewer). Also in the mix was a well-known and hugely popular state senator (Sid McDonald).

Be sure that Baxley, Beasley and Brewer were called the &8220;Three Bs&8221; by those of us in the press and as most of you remember all three of those &8220;Bs&8221; got stung by a relatively unknown candidate, Fob James.

But as high profile as those candidates were in 1978, they do not compare with what we have on the ballot in 2006.

Adding to the spice of these primaries is that both races will, in a sense, be a fight unto death … political death, I speak of. The losers next June … be it Riley, Moore, Baxley or Siegelman … can pack their bags, head to Buck’s Pocket and spend their retirement there.

Bob Ingram has covered Alabama politics for more than 50 years.

Riley is young enough to run for another office, but after being governor what office would appeal to him? If Moore loses he is not likely to be a major player in the future.

On the other ticket, Lt. Gov. Baxley is taking the biggest risk of all. She could have easily won a second term in her present office but if she should lose in 2006 she will not likely be a candidate for major office again. Siegelman lost a race for governor in 2002 … to lose again in 2006 would surely spell an end to his political career.

Few of you will remember her but the death of Mrs. Margaret Stewart at age 91 is worthy of mention.

Mrs. Stewart, the widow of a prominent educator and a Cherokee County native, was a perennial candidate for office … governor, U.S. Senator, even president.

She never came close but it deterred her not at all.

Her best showing came when she polled an astonishing 123,000 votes (19 percent of the vote) in the Democratic Primary in a race against U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin.

Her late husband, Frank Stewart, served as State Superintendent of Education from 1959-63 and then was appointed president of what was then Troy State University.

When he died in 1964 Mrs. Stewart made the news when she refused to vacate the president’s mansion at TSU. It took a lot of cajoling to get her out.

Being a native of Cherokee County I knew Margaret well. She was a brilliant woman but she marched to a different drummer