Legacy of Wallace still lives
Published 6:03 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The most effective and powerful governor in the last sixty years, and probably Alabama history, would be Gov. George Wallace. This was especially true when it came to getting his programs through the legislature. However, when you look at the other governors he was competing with over the last sixty years, there were not very many because Wallace was governor for practically one third of those sixty years. So you might say he was successful because he had a lot of experience being governor and dealing with the legislature. Although that is true, Wallace’s success went deeper. He worked hard at it.
During my 16 years in the legislature, Wallace was in a league of his own. My first term in the legislature was 1982 and George Wallace was serving his last term as governor. He treated each of us like kings. It did not matter who was in his office. If you were a member of the legislature and you needed to see the governor about something for your district, he would drop everything, usher you into his office, and do everything he could to address your concerns or district needs.
One day I went down to the Governor’s office unannounced and his secretary told him I was outside. The next thing I knew the door opened and Wallace told me to come on in. He had about six Japanese diplomats in his office, who were potential industrial prospects, but Wallace asked me if I wanted him to ask them to leave so we could meet privately. Of course I responded, “No Governor that is not necessary. I will be glad to come back later.” However, Wallace insisted on my staying while they visited. As I sat down, he began telling the poor Japanese fellows that I had been a page when I was a little boy while he, Gov. Wallace, was in his first term as governor and now I was his representative because I represented his hometown of Clayton. Who could not help but vote with a guy who gave a lowly member of the House that kind of attention and deference?
Some may be surprised to know that next to Wallace one of the most efficient and effective governors in dealing with the legislature during my tenure was Guy Hunt. He surrounded himself with experienced and savvy political veterans. He personally worked with legislators diligently. Like Wallace, he would have us out to the Governor’s Mansion frequently. He was able to build a coalition in the House made up of conservative Democrats and Republicans. Hunt was on the right side of sound pro-business legislation which passed during his administration.
George Wallace was the king of not only Alabama politics, but also a political genius and master of legislative success. He was not only gifted at both, he also worked hard at both. Times have changed dramatically since the Wallace days.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature.