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Where are the Big Jims of Today?

  |   By: Steven Boydstun     |   Opinion

Thanks to the Electoral College, Alabama plays a pretty insignificant role in presidential politics. Only a handful of states actually matter in presidential elections. This is one area in which we are in the same boat as California and New York. What could we in Alabama possibly share in common with those two states? We are token votes for the respective parties our states as a whole vote for.

The Democrats know they can count the electoral votes along the East and West coasts. Republicans know they will do well in the Midwest and will sweep the Deep South. That’s just how it is today. If Alabama would become a two-party state, as I talked about before, we might actually have more influence not just in elections, but in reaping the benefits associated with being a swing state.

As a result, presidential elections are usually an interesting, but not captivating experience for us in Alabama. Instead, the governor’s race is the real marquee event. Alabama has been home to some of America’s most colorful politicians. Few would argue the most colorful governor to date would be James “Big Jim” Folsom, Sr. Big Jim was completely uninhibited. He made the average person take an interest in campaigns and go out and vote for him. As a populist, his famous slogan was that he was “the little man’s big friend.”

Even contemporarily, we’ve had some great election drama and campaign ads. Not to be outdone, in 2006 Big Jim’s son, James “Little Jim” Folsom, Jr. ran an ad in which he enumerated the number of shotguns he owned, how many children he has, and how long he’s been married. He did this while not-so-subtly painting his opponent, Luther Strange, as an elitist, claiming he does not “play tennis at the Mountain Brook Club” and that he’d “rather be hunting instead.”

And we can’t forget Little Jim’s claim to fame – he brought “Muh-say-dehs” to Alabama!

But as we near the end of the current electoral quadrennium and face a new statewide election cycle, it can really only be summed up in one word: boring.

Gov. Robert Bentley will easily win the governor’s race with plenty of percentages to spare, as will most any Republican incumbent. “Back in the day” there was not as much to do for entertainment and campaign season was more like campaign theater for people, as candidates would drive into a town square, stand on the back of a tailgate, and get the crowd all excited to go out and vote for them.

With that in mind, I often forget this is an election year. Maybe things will get more interesting as the primaries approach, as winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the election these days. But I don’t have much hope. Bentley will run on his platform of creating jobs and not taking a salary.  Dr. Parker Griffith will run a respectable campaign challenging Bentley’s record. Vanilla, party of two.

However, in the vanilla scene that is Montgomery this election cycle, there is one colorful politician that we are going to have to depend on to throw her rouge into the mix: Kay Ivey.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is facing a Tea Party Republican named Stan Cooke in the June primary, and will face Democrat James Fields in November. This will likely cause her to spend a significant amount of time and money in campaigning and advertising. I for one am glad she is facing opposition. Not because I don’t like her, but because that fuels the best campaign ads.

We need Kay Ivey to dust off the campaign ad cobwebs around here and throw out some homespun Wilcox County realness all the way from the shoals to the shore. After all, “the People’s Business” is at stake. The People’s Agenda must be fulfilled. The People’s Lieutenant Governor must prevail. The People’s Bourbon must be had neat with the rap of a gavel.

Honorable mention for campaign ads goes to Dale Peterson, for one of the most epic campaign commercials ever during his campaign for Agriculture Commissioner in 2010. Dale has entered the race for State Auditor, but I feel like the gusto which propelled him to jump off that horse and swing around his rifle may have gone out of him in the intervening years. But I could be wrong.

Alabamians love a good Governor’s race. We even love a good Lt. Governor’s race if it’s interesting enough. The people deserve more from state government in many ways, but if they are not going to adequately fund our schools and spend their time in session debating about the Ten Commandments, we should at least deserve a fun and dramatic election cycle. Where are the Big Jims of today?

Follow Steven on Twitter at @skboydstun

Steven Boydstun holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Troy University (Troy) and a Master of Public Administration degree from The University of Alabama. Views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of his employer or any other affiliate.