Ward: GOP’s come a long way, baby

Published 12:03 am Thursday, November 4, 2010

There are some who say that Tuesday’s Republican take-over of Alabama political offices began when a former probate judge from Cullman County, Guy Hunt, was elected governor in 1986.

But Wyley Ward, a former vice chairman of the state GOP who’s been a party member since 1957, takes a longer view.

Ward says it began in 1970 when he and others convinced the party to move from a convention to a primary system. While most state and local offices in Alabama were held by Democrats at that time, the GOP had managed to get five U.S. House seats in the “Goldwater sweep” of 1964. That was the year Republican Barry Goldwater was the presidential nominee opposite Lyndon B. Johnson. Goldwater’s appeal to conservative Southern voters helped other Republicans get elected.

In 1970, the four remaining GOP House members – which included Bill Dickinson from the Wiregrass – opposed the primary system, Ward said, but the party prevailed.

The early 70s brought troubles for Republicans who held local offices in North Alabama, Ward recalled, and several lost in the aftermath of Republican President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

“In the 70s, after Nixon got kicked out, both Fob James and (Charlie) Graddick left the Republicans and joined the Democrats and both of them got big elections in the state as governor and attorney general,” he recalled.

But a happy day came again when Ronald Reagan wrested the White House away from Democrat Jimmy Carter, Ward said.

“Beating that Jimmy Carter – that was one of the happiest times I ever had in politics,” Ward said.

Things began to look better for the party. With Reagan in the White House, “we picked up quite a few, like (Sen. Richard) Shelby who was elected as a Democrat but came flying over to our side,” Ward said.

While Hunt’s win was good for the party, “the Democrats gave us the election,” Ward said of the bitter battle among Democrats over cross-over Republican voting in the Democratic run-off for governor between Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick in the summer of 1986. Graddick got the most votes, but state Democratic leaders said he won only because of crossover Republican votes and declared Baxley their candidate.

“The only one we had good results in was ’94,” Ward said, referring to Fob James’ election as a Republican governor.

Tuesday, members of the Republican Party won all of the statewide races on the ballot, and gained control of both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

“After we got beat up so bad, I didn’t ever think it would happen,” Ward said Wednesday.

Of Alabama’s governor-elect, Robert Bentley, Ward said, “He is the smartest guy that we’ve elected for governor in my memory. He’s highly intelligent, and got another advantage that I see. He’s 67 years old. He’s got some conservative streaks in him, but I think he’ll listen to people, so Bentley ought to make a good governor.”

Of Kay Ivey, the current state treasurer who was elected lieutenant governor, Ward said, she’s been in the party almost as long as he has. But he doubts she’ll have much influence as lieutenant governor.

“All you’ve got to do is tap the gavel and turn them loose,” he said of the person who presides over the state Senate. “She can’t influence them. They took all power away from the position when (Republican) Steve Windham was in there. She’s not strong enough to get it back, so the senators will run the show. She’ll do all right.”