Governors races make history
Published 3:31 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009
As the 1958 governor’s race dawned the shadow of Big Jim Folsom loomed over the scene. Even though Big Jim could not be on the ballot, because the Alabama Constitution prohibited a governor from succeeding himself, his larger than life presence was pervasive.
Although Big Jim was prohibited from seeking a record third term in 1958, the aspirants could not decide if they wanted his support or not. On one hand he was popular with rural Alabamians but, on the other hand, his second term had been as tumultuous and chaotic as his first and probably more scandalous and corrupt.
As was the custom, because you could not succeed yourself, the man who ran second became the frontrunner four years later. It was called running a get acquainted race. This pattern had been played out throughout the decades. The runner up to Big Jim in 1954 was Jimmy Faulkner, who was a State Senator from Bay Minette in Baldwin County. Faulkner was a successful businessman who owned a string of newspapers. He was sharp, handsome, and articulate with a little more polish than Big Jim but not nearly the charisma. However, having finished second in 1954, Faulkner emerged as the frontrunner when the 1958 governor’s race began.
It was apparent early on that George Wallace would be Faulkner’s biggest rival. Wallace was a fiery circuit judge in Barbour County and had been running for governor since he was in knee pants. He had been traveling and organizing the state for four years preparing to run. Wallace was especially well-organized in South Alabama. He had been Big Jim’s South Alabama campaign manager in 1954 and was poised to build on and use those contacts. It was apparent that Wallace was a political force to be reckoned with in this race and in years to come. He had a magnetism that connected with voters and a phenomenal ability to remember people’s names. He was also a gifted orator and debater.
John Patterson was the attorney general of Alabama. His father, Albert Patterson, had been elected four years earlier but was assassinated shortly after his election. The elder Patterson was a Phenix City lawyer who had run on a platform of cleaning up Phenix City, which had emerged as one of the most corrupt cities in America. It was a poor man’s Las Vegas with gambling and prostitution catering to the vast army of soldiers stationed at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia, just over the Alabama line. The city was run by a tough local mafia. After Albert Patterson was elected, they killed him.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist who served in the state legislature for 16 years.