There is a cadre of politicos in Birmingham who are approaching their 60’s that have been a close knit group of true blue Republicans since the get go. They have probably never been or needed to run as Democrats. More than likely, they were Goldwater Republicans when they were little boys. Most certainly they were Nixon and Reagan Republicans in their youth.
This group is close knit and numbers about 12. The face cards are former legislator, State DHR Director, Hoover Mayor and now Jefferson County Administrator Tony Petelos, former State Representatives and now lobbyists Mark Gaines and Allen Sanderson, and current State Representative and former Jefferson County Tax Collector Jack Williams.
Like I said, these guys are not RINO’s. They have been on the ground floor of building the state GOP and supporting Republican candidates. They recruited and planned the grassroots campaigns for GOP candidates as early as the 1980’s.
They were together one night during that era when Williams said aloud, “You know, I believe Jimmy Evans could be beat.” Evans was the Democratic Attorney General who stalked, connived and prosecuted Republican Gov. Guy Hunt. Their imaginations began to wander and they brainstormed as to who could beat Evans.
Almost simultaneously they emerged with the idea that an obscure, but clean-cut, Boy Scout looking U.S. Attorney named Jeff Sessions would be the ideal candidate. They proceeded to call Sessions at home at 10:30 p.m. he took their call and they talked about an hour. Sessions told them he was not interested but would sleep on it.
Days later, Sessions acquiesced and decided to run. They had convinced him. The rest is history. Sessions beat Evans and became Attorney General. He went to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and will easily coast to reelection to a fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate this year.
Jack Williams is credited with convincing Fob James to run for governor as a Republican in 1994. Fob had won the Governor’s office in 1978 as a Democrat. Everyone knew he was a Republican. This group kept cajoling Fob to go for the brass ring again as the GOP standard bearer.
Guy Hunt had already broken the ice in 1986. Fob ran and won. This group helped him win, especially Williams, who managed his campaign. Fob was not a great campaigner. Some would say that his heart was not really in running nor serving as governor again.
Williams tells a story that occurred during the Republican primary that year that illuminates the old Alabama political maxim that homefolks know you best. There is a cardinal rule that you need to carry your own county if you run for a statewide office. In that race, Fob had to beat Winton Blount, Jr. and State Senator Ann Bedsole from Mobile to win the GOP primary.
Fob and Ann Bedsole made the runoff. They were invited to a forum in Huntsville during the runoff. As usual, Fob refused to go so he sent Jack Williams to represent him. When they were getting ready to speak, Jack courteously gave the floor to Sen. Bedsole first. She thanked him for his gentlemanly gesture and proceeded to pounce on Fob.
When Jack got up to speak he had done his homework. He said, Mrs. Bedsole is a nice lady but the best way to know somebody is to see what the folks who know them best have to say about them. Well Fob James has lived in four counties in his life. He was born in Chambers, built his business in Lee, lived in Mobile and now lives in Baldwin. Folks, he carried all four counties in the first primary. You know Fob beat Mrs. Bedsole in her home county of Mobile. He also beat her in her senate district and folks, you know Fob beat her in her own box where she lives and votes. Ann Bedsole had nothing to say. Fob went on to win the primary and general election.
See you next week.