Rundown on past Alabama elections

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 27, 2005

MONTGOMERY &8212; This long holiday season not only creates havoc with newspaper deadlines but on top of that it is invariably a slow news period.

State government and politicking slows down during the Christmas-New Year&8217;s Day season. That being so, for this week and next, I am going to give you what we call in my trade a couple of &8220;filler columns.&8221;

Specifically, as we are on the eve of one of the most intriguing gubernatorial primaries in decades, I am going to do a little reminiscing about gubernatorial elections past.

I have either covered or been involved in the past 14 gubernatorial elections &8230; starting in 1950 &8230; and it has been some ride.

Here are some of my remembrances of those elections, some exciting, some sleep-provoking. And before I start this stroll let me remind you it was not until 1986 that the word &8220;Republican&8221; became a factor in governor&8217;s races. The only election that counted until then was the Democratic Primary.

-1950: That primary will be remembered as our introduction to what I call &8220;run for the fun of it&8221; candidates.

No less than 15 men qualified for governor that year &8230; most of them folks no one had ever heard of. With so many in the race, Gordon Persons led the field with only 33 percent of the vote. Yet he was so far ahead of runner-up Phillip Hamm (15 percent,) that Hamm didn&8217;t contest the run-off. Talk about a minority governor, Persons was surely that.

-1954: Big Jim Folsom, despite fierce opposition from the Big Mules and the big city newspapers, made mincemeat of State Sen. Jimmy Faulkner and Lt. Gov. Jim Allen, among others.

This was Big Jim&8217;s last

hurrah. He ran for governor five more times after that but never came close.

-1958: Us so-called experts had this one pegged as a two-man battle between Faulkner, the runner-up four years before, and a young circuit judge named George Wallace.

We didn&8217;t take into the consideration the popularity of Atty. Gen. John Patterson.

He won and in the process handed Wallace his only defeat in a gubernatorial race.

-1963: Wallace, born-again on the issue of segregation, won, beating State Sen. Ryan deGraffenried in a run-off.

An election-eve TV appearance by Big Jim Folsom in which he appeared to be intoxicated no doubt cost him a run-off spot.

-1966: The Lurleen Landslide, it came to be known. Incumbent Gov. George Wallace could not run for another term so he ran his wife instead and it was no contest. She won without a run-off. Tragically, Sen. DeGraffenried died in a plane crash early in the campaign. Many think he might have won. I don&8217;t share that view.

A sidebar to that election: For the first time in history one of the candidates, Atty. Gen. Richmond Flowers, openly and unapologetically campaigned for the black votes. That black bloc vote helped him place second, but a distant second.

-1970: I did not cover this campaign as a newsman&8230;I was very much involved, serving as State Finance Director in the Cabinet of Gov. Albert Brewer, who had become governor on the death of Gov. Lurleen Wallace. This was a &8220;family fight&8221; between Brewer and former Gov. George Wallace. They had been allies for years.

Without question it was the ugliest campaign of my experience, but in the end Wallace won in a run-off by a paper-thin margin.


An absolute &8220;nothing&8221; primary election. Two years earlier Wallace had been crippled by a would-be assassin, and nobody was going to beat him.

This marked the first time that an incumbent governor could run for a second consecutive four year term. Wallace overwhelmed State Sen. Gene McLain of Huntsville.

-1978: I have said it before and will say it again. Of the gubernatorial elections I have covered, this was in my mind the biggest upset. Three heavyweights&8230;Atty. Gen.Bill Baxley, Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley and former Gov.Albert Brewer&8230;were the odds on favorites to lead the pack. The &8220;3-B&8217;s&8221; we called them. Nobody paid any attention to a former Auburn football star and millionaire named Fob James.

James sensed that the voters were tired of the same old faces and concluded it was time for a &8220;New Beginning.&8221; James led the field and defeated Baxley in a run-off.

-1982: After an unprecedented three terms as governor, George Wallace couldn&8217;t resist the temptation to try for a fourth term. In the first primary Wallace led by a country-mile but was forced into a run-off with Lt. Gov. George McMillan. In that second primary Wallace saw his 130,000 vote lead shrink to only 24,000. Next week I will take a look at the gubernatorial elections from 1986 through 2002&8230;and they might well be called the Republican Revolution.

Bob Ingram has been covering Alabama politics for over 50 years