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Author Archives: Steve Flowers

  1. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – March 26, 2014

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    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.

  2. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – March 19, 2014

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    A while back I wrote a column entitled “The State Legislature Is A Good Training Ground For Governor, But Not A Good Stepping Stone To Governor.” The essence of my hypothesis was being one of the 105 members of the House of Representatives or even one of the 35 members of the State Senate does not lend itself to building name identification, which is essential to election to statewide office.

    The perfect example in support of this argument occurred several years ago when Covington County State Representative Seth Hammett was Speaker of the House. Seth contemplated a race for governor. The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives is probably the second most powerful position in state government. Seth had served 20 years in the House and had garnered unfathomable knowledge of the machinations of state government. He was immensely popular and universally known in his home district.

    One of the first steps when seeking a major statewide office is to conduct what is called a benchmark poll. This poll measures how well you are known statewide. Seth’s name identification was only 3%. If the Speaker of the House has 3% name identification, what do you think a backbencher from Wedowee’s would register? Seth decided against making the race.

    The current Speaker, Mike Hubbard, would more than likely have less than 10% name identification and half of his name identification would be attributed to people confusing him with legendary AEA lobbyist Dr. Paul Hubbert.

    A similar scenario occurred decades ago when then Senator, now lobbyist John Teague decided that as Pro Tem of the State Senate he should naturally ascend to lieutenant governor. He proceeded with the mandatory benchmark pole. Like Seth, Teague came back with the same single digit result. His pollster candidly told him, “John, it is even worse than you think. Probably over half of your 6% name identification belongs to State School Superintendent Wayne Teague.” John continued on and ran for lieutenant governor anyway but was swamped by Jim Folsom, Jr., who had inherited statewide name identification from his legendary father Big Jim Folsom.

    The funniest story of this name identification game occurred several decades ago when my friend Mac McArthur launched into a foray to run for Attorney General of Alabama. Mac has headed the Alabama State Employees Association for close to 20 years. Mac has been around politics all of his life. He grew up in the Wiregrass and was a protégé of Bill Baxley. Mac wanted to follow his mentor, Baxley, and become a trailblazing state prosecutor. Mac had been a district attorney and was currently the head of the State Ethics Commission.  In that capacity he had garnered some state press so he figured that would translate into name identification.

    Mac proceeded with his initial name identification poll. The legendary political guru, Joe Perkins, had taken Mac on as his client. Joe called Mac to come over and get his results. Perkins, who has managed many of the successful races for statewide offices over the years, knew from past experience that initial name identification for state aspirants could be very low. Perkins met Mac excitedly and said, “Mac, I have some good news for you.” Joe then revealed that Mac had 5% favorable statewide name identification. Mac slowly looked at his counselor and said, “Joe, the only thing I see good about that is that I can run naked through Winn-Dixie and nobody will know who I am.”

    The general rule that the legislature is not a good steppingstone to statewide office may be changing in modern times. Our current Governor, Robert Bentley, ascended to the governorship from the legislature. He was the first governor in this century to move directly from the legislature to the Governor’s office.

    One reason why this may change in future years is the tremendous amount of money that incumbent state representatives and especially state senators are raising and stockpiling. There are several state senators who have amassed $400,000 to $500,000 war chests. That is a good start towards a statewide race. In addition, a powerful state senator is building an entrenched relationship with special interest groups and lobbyists who are the primary resources for funding a race for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general.

    We will see.  See you next week.

  3. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – March 13, 2014

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    Last week we highlighted and handicapped the statewide races for the top five constitutional offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and agriculture commissioner. All of these offices are held by incumbent Republicans. Therefore, it would be an upset if any of them went down to defeat.

    In fact, currently there are 31 statewide elected offices in Alabama and all 31 are held by Republicans. However, the Democrats have fielded a respectable slate of candidates. We will see if indeed winning the GOP primary is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

    The scene is set for there to be donnybrooks for the two low profile secondary statewide offices of secretary of state and state auditor. There are three gentlemen seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state. Whoever wins the Republican primary will waltz to election in November.

    Reese McKinney is the former Probate Judge of Montgomery County. He served 12 years in that capacity and did an excellent job and is well known in the River Region.

    State Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa is finishing his first term in the House of Representatives. He started campaigning over a year ago and boy has he campaigned. He has blitzed the state covering every county at least once. He has raised over $300,000 and has also received some significant endorsements, including the Alabama Farmers’ Federation.

    Like Merrill, Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue has traversed the state. Perdue has been very active in the Probate Judge’s Association and hopes to parlay these relationships into a grassroots victory.

    It appeared early on that the Secretary of State race would be the best statewide contest this year. However, the open office of State Auditor may eclipse that three-man race. There are now four men seeking to follow Samantha Shaw in this obscure administrative office.

    A young candidate, Adam Thompson, was in the race early. He currently works in the Secretary of State’s office and is familiar with the machinations of both the Auditor and Secretary of State’s duties. Another candidate is Hobbie Sealy, a retired Air Force Colonel from Montgomery.

    There are two colorful political characters who jumped into the Auditor’s race on the last day. Jim Ziegler has been around state politics for over 30 years. He won a seat on the PSC as a young man and has run for a lot of offices since then. He is currently a Mobile lawyer and zealous Tea Partier.

    The zaniest character in the race for Auditor is Dale Peterson, he lost a race for Agriculture Commissioner four years ago but he became infamous for a YouTube video that went viral where Peterson appeared wearing a cowboy hat and toting a gun. He has since been arrested twice for shoplifting. Peterson’s wife Kathy, who has also lost a statewide race, will be on the GOP ballot as well. She is a candidate for the PSC against incumbent Jeremy Oden.

    The best race of the year will be for the open congressional seat in the 6th district. State Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale chose not to run for reelection to the State Senate in order to make his second race for the congressional post. He is the darling of the Tea Party right but is not a good fundraiser. Beason starts with the best name identification.

    A second prominent candidate will be wealthy businessman Will Brooke. He is a former head of the Business Council of Alabama. It is unknown how much of his own money he will spend. It will be interesting to see if someone can buy this seat. It is probably the most sophisticated in the state.

    State Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood is popular and has put together an early grassroots campaign organization in the district. He is a tireless campaigner.

    A political newcomer, Dr. Chad Mathis, an orthopedic surgeon from Shelby County has raised the most early money, although most of it is his own.

    Gary Palmer has toiled in the right wing vineyards for decades as the chief officer of the conservative Alabama Policy Institute. He could be formidable.

    The other two candidates rounding out the seven-man field are Pelham manufacturer Tom Vigneulle and Birmingham attorney Robert Shattuck.  This could be a good race.

    See you next week.