Flowers: 2010 election 50 years in making

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Political columnist and commentator Steve Flowers regaled members of the Andalusia Kiwanis Club with political anecdotes Monday, saying politics was once the state’s great spectator sport.

“When you look at Southern politics, there was a time when there was no other sport but politics,” he said, referring to a day before NASCAR, the Atlanta Braves and the New Orleans Saints.

Flowers, who also teaches a course on Southern politics for Troy University, said that while the South was peppered with characters, Alabama had two of the best: George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom.

“George Wallace always did extremely well in Covington County,” Flowers said. “If he won 65 percent of the vote in every county, he’d get 75 percent here.”

Big Jim, he said, was larger than life.

“I’m 6-foot-6, and I very seldom have my picture made with somebody taller than me,” Flowers said. “Big Jim was an old man at the time and a little stooped, but he was still taller. The history books have him at 6-foot-8, but I believe he had to have been 6-foot-9. He wore a 17-and-half shoe.

“If you had a dictionary with the word ‘uninhibited’ in it, you could put Big Jim’s picture beside it,” he said. “He would say or do anything.”

Flowers said if Big Jim had been president and found himself accused as presidential contender Herman Cain does now, “He would have called a press conference and said, ‘Yea, I did it.’ Then the media wouldn’t have anything to write about.

“Or back in Watergate, he would have called a press conference and bragged about it. Nixon lied. That’s what got him in trouble.”

Flowers said the party transformation in the deep South in 2010 was the “biggest in the history of the United States.” To understand it, he said, one must look at 50 years of history.

In 1962, he said, in the entire South, there wasn’t a single Republican in the U.S Senate, Congress, not a Republican governor, no Republicans in the Alabama legislature, and no Republican sheriffs or probate judges.

“Fifty years later, every U.S. senator, except one from Louisiana, is a Republican, many of our congressman are, all of the governors, and most of Alabama’s legislature,” he said.

The South’s allegiance to the Democratic party began in Reconstruction, he said, which was invoked by the “radical Republicans.”

“It was the worst occupation of a defeated country, ever,” he said. “The South decided it would never vote Republican again. Old guys on their death beds would gather their children around them and tell them two things: Don’t sell the family farm, and don’t ever vote for a Republican.”

Fast forward to 1964, the year of the Goldwater-Johnson presidential race.

“Race was the issue and Wallace was flourishing,” he said. When Johnson said the Civil Rights Act into law, Goldwater, an Arizonan, was the only non-Southern senator who voted against it.

“Goldwater was truly a states rights guy,” Flowers said.

“When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, he said, ‘I’ve just signed the South over to the Republican party.’ It was a pronouncement of what would become a fact.”

In the 1964 election, seven of Alabama’s nine Congressmen, many of them who had served more than two decades, were wiped out.

Previously, Alabama’s Congressional delegation had been one of the most liberal in the United States, he said. Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman had supported every New Deal package, and Alabama flourished as a result, gaining the Tennessee Valley Authority and Redstone Arsenal in the process. Sen. Hill’s name was on the Hill-Burton Act, under which most rural hospitals in the United States were built.

“It had been good for Alabama.”

From that 1964 so-called Goldwater sweep until last year, Alabama had been moving steadily toward the Republican party, he said.

“That was when the last bastion of Democratic control went down,” Flowers said. “In ’64, Lyndon Johnson drove a stake through the heart of the party in Alabama. In 2010, Barack Obama put the final nail in the coffin.”

Flowers said Alabama voters were voting against all Democrats in 2010.

“Bobby Bight was one of the most conservative Congressmen,” he said. “People were voting for Martha Roby, they were voting against anybody with a “D” beside his name.”

Asked how the country will swing in the 2012 elections, Flowers said he believes Republicans will take control of the U.S. Senate, which will be good for Alabama.

“If that happens, (Sen. Richard) Shelby will be chair of the Appropriations Committee,” he said. “You just think he’s powerful now.”