By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
In the 1986 gubernatorial election, the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee killed its state party through autoerotic asphyxiation. The fools wanked themselves to death.
It accomplished this self infliction by stealing the 1986 gubernatorial election from conservative Charlie Graddick and handing it to liberal Bill Baxley. Not only was in done in broad daylight, it was done over a workweek’s time.
It did it by disenfranchising a half-million honest, registered voters. It not only hasn’t recovered from it, apparently it never will. It isn’t even trying very hard.
The main strangler was Paul Hubbert, whom many consider to have been a truly gifted liar and con man.
Hubbert was head of the then all-powerful Alabama Education Committee. Finally, he took AEA down, too, after being the state’s major league bully for a quarter-century. The great fall of the party and the AEA was Humpty Dumpty-ish. All the king’s horses, eh.
“King” Hubbert walked away from the ruins with a smirky smile, millions of dollars ill-gotten and an immaculately clean conscience, although he’d ruined many lives with gleeful intent. He was an unrepentant old sinner.
The lead up to the Democratic self destruction – the scene of the crime – was George Wallace doing an unWallace-like thing. He said he was retiring from politics and he kept his word. Wallace ruled Alabama politics for 40 years.
He was sick and tired, in a wheelchair. He was semi-paralyzed from assassin Arthur Bremer’s four bullets to his body while Wallace was campaigning for president in 1972.
He left, but the iron grip on state politics he’d forged for the Democratic party stayed in place. Many experts believe he’d used his centralization of state government to steal gubernatorial elections three times…1970, 1978 and 1983 It remained a mailed fist, the glove now empty.
If nature abhors a vacuum, politics slavers over one. The rush to fill the Wallace throne was like to an F5 tornado. It ripped everything apart.
Remember that until 1986, Alabama was a singular one-party state and the party belonged to the Democrats. There hadn’t been a Republican governor since Reconstruction (Reconstruction being the singular reason that Democrats had ruled the South for a century).
Winning the Democrat nomination was tantamount to victory. As always, however, there were opposing forces of conservatives and liberals within the party.
So let’s introduce the particulars for the event, the event being the race for Democratic nomination for governor. It’s sort of rare, generally speaking, for a candidate to win a major primary election without a run off. At the end of the day, so to speak, four men were standing for the primary.
In the conservative corner were aforementioned Graddick, the serving attorney general and Baxley, the serving lieutenant governor. There was former Gov. Fob James and former Lt. Gov. George McMillian. Heavyweights, all.
In the liberal corner, Baxley stood alone, party darling and heir apparent, though McMillian had positioned himself for a shot. McMillian was the gubernatorial candidate in 1982 from whom Wallace stole the election and for a time was considered the front runner.
These men are alive functioning well, and look back on the event with bittersweet feelings.
McMillian had and retains a massive intellect and possessed a genius ability at organizational grassroots politics.
Fob James was a former All American running back at Auburn and a self-made millionaire via his sports industry. He’d won the 1978 governor’s race as a Democrat, having been a Republican. It was change in name only.
Lt. Gov. Baxley had worked himself to political prominence. He was elected attorney general in 1970 and wowed the nation when his liberal policies and fearlessness fronted the KKK. The Klan threatened to kill him, a clear and present danger. He replied, calmly, “Kiss my ass.”
Graddick was the new kid, so to speak. In 1986 he was attorney general, feral in his opposition to whatever it was he was opposing. He was fine attorney general and politician. He ran the office well and used it with political effectiveness.
All these men had been looking for the day when George Wallace stepped away. It takes not just years but decades, in the main, for a politician to position for an authentic race for governor.
It’s been noted that the primary election. At the outset, those are sweetie pie races in which candidates endeavor to out-nice each other. They are courting the public. Smiles and handshakes with each other, each setting his/her issues, saying Look What A Nice Guy I Am.
As the race thickens and frontrunners emerge, trailing candidates see years of work and tons of money begin to slip away.
The gloves come off. Bloody hell ensues.
(Next week: Sex, Drugs, Whiskey and Rock, Roll.)
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com. Email Skip HERE.