Path to politics changed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A few months ago I compared the route taken to Washington by our congressmen of 50 years ago to the paths of our delegation on the Potomac today. When their steps were studied it was amazing how similar the Alabama delegation of the 1960s ascension to the Halls of Congress was in comparison. They all essentially had the same journey. They were born and reared in Alabama, went to the University of Alabama, were members of the Machine fraternity at the Capstone, went to law school at Alabama, then returned to their hometowns to practice law before being elected to Congress, usually at a fairly young age. Many, if not most, had taken a short detour to serve in the military either in World War I or World War II. They also became active in the American Legion, which appeared to be an essential emblem to enter politics in that era.

When you chronicle the paths of our present day federal lawmakers they are much different. The obvious prevailing differentiation is that the 1960s group was almost cloned. It appears they choreographed their careers to be congressmen, while our present day solons seem to have gotten to Washington almost by accident.

Many of our governors of the past, especially George Wallace and Don Siegelman, seemed to have had their eye on a political career from the cradle. They had and obsession with becoming governor and scripted their lives to achieve that goal.

What about our current state leaders? They are just like our congressional group of today. The difference between the journeys of our political leaders of 50 years ago and today is stark and obvious. When George Wallace was born in Barbour County he started running for governor immediately. In contrast, it is very doubtful that Robert Bentley ever dreamed of being governor of Alabama when he was born in Shelby County in the early 1940s.

Bentley was a leader in high school and finished college at the University of Alabama in three years. However, he dreamed of being a medical doctor. He went to medical school, settled in Tuscaloosa and built a thriving dermatology practice. It was only as an afterthought, when his 30-year career as a doctor was winding down, that he entered politics. He came to the game with an eye towards a civic contribution rather than a career path.

Attorney General Luther Strange probably never thought he would enter politics. Luther at 6’ 9” was a basketball player. He went to Tulane on a basketball scholarship and then went on to law school at Tulane. He became a Washington lobbyist before changing course at age 50 to get into the arena as a player rather than an influence peddler.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is somewhat similar to early era politicians. She showed a penchant for politics at an early age by becoming a high school leader in Girl’s State and was active in campus politics at Auburn. She also held leadership positions in banking prior to her entry into state politics.

Perhaps the most unique player on the state political scene is House Speaker Mike Hubbard. He was born in north Georgia. His passion early in life was sports rather than politics. He started writing about sports for his local newspaper and received a journalism scholarship to the University of Georgia. At Georgia, he was assigned the task of promoting Herschel Walker for the Heisman Trophy. With this successful accomplishment under his belt he was recruited to Auburn to spearhead the same media campaign effort for Bo Jackson. He later started the Auburn Sports Network, which he runs today. He ran for the Legislature in 1998 and 13 years later is Speaker of the House. It is doubtful that he thought that he would be Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives when he was growing up in north Georgia in the 1970s.