Folsom, Wallace part of state’s colorful political history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Flowers signs a copy of his book for Margaret Eiland, who is about to celebrate her 98th birthday. Mrs. Eiland said she enjoys reading his column each week.

Flowers signs a copy of his book for Margaret Eiland, who is about to celebrate her 98th birthday. Mrs. Eiland said she enjoys reading his column each week.

Politics aren’t nearly as colorful as they used to be.

So says Steve Flowers, former state representative and current political columnist and analyst, who was in Andalusia yesterday touting his new book, “Of Goats and Governors, Six Decades of Alabama Political Stories.”

Flowers, who developed an affinity for politics as a young man, said he met Gov. George Wallace in Wallace’s first term, when Flowers was a page for State Rep. Gardner Bassett.

Wallace, who had an uncanny ability to recall names, remembered that meeting when Flowers succeeded Bassett 20 years later.

“You know, I believe God just sat down one day and said ‘I’m gone make a politician, ’ ” Flowers said. “Wallace could walk in this room, or to a club twice this size, meet you, and call you by name five years later.”

When Flowers went the legislature, his district included a portion of Wallace’s native Barbour County.

“He would call me off the floor to come see him,” Flowers recalled. Always, Flowers said, it was the same stories.

“One day I was actually going to see him about something. We had our little Pike County Museum on 231. Back then Wallace controlled everything, so I was coming to see him about project in my district. And I was going to try to get $10K.

“I said, ‘Governor, I need some money for my museum in Pike County.’

“The governor said, ‘What kind of museum y’all got down in Pike County.’

“I tried to explain it to him, and I said, ‘You know, we’ve got a lot of snowbirds coming down 231.

“Wallace said, ‘What kinda birds y’all got?’

“No, Governor. A lot of Yankees coming through.

“What are you doing to the Yankees in Pike County?

Back in the day, Flowers said, Alabamians relied on politics for entertainment.

“I wanted to capture an era when country bands would come to the square and entertain with the politicians,” he said.

“You can’t make up the stuff Big Jim did,” he said. “If you put ‘uninhibited’ in the dictionary, you’d have to put Big Jim’s name beside it.”

Folsom’s band was the Strawberry Pickers, and Big Jim campaigned with a suds bucket, promising to clean up government.

“During that era, this 6-foot-9 giant would show up. You’d have him singing ‘Y’all Come with suds bucket dancing up and down the stage drunk as Cooter Brown. To see Big Jim come to town was better than the Grand Old Opry.”

The South also was known for friends and neighbors politics, Flowers said.

“If someone lived close to you, folks were gonna vote for you. He may be the sorriest drunk and crook, but you would vote for him because he was from ‘our neck of the woods.”

Wallace and Folsom were masters of the tactic, Flowers said, but even Robert Bentley won with it as recently as 2010.

“He ran through Tuscaloosa, Fayette, and Lamar counties like a scalded dog,” Flowers said. “And y’all remember, he barely made the (Republican primary) runoff with Tim James.”

“Bentley won that race became of friends and neighbors,” he said. “Big Jim won same way in 1946. He got 70 percent of vote in Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw and Pike counties, and then he carried the area around Cullman.”

Folsom, who was born and reared in Elba, later moved to Cullman to sell insurance. Flowers said he managed to pull off “friends and family” in both areas of the state.

Flowers said he is often asked who was Alabama’s best governor.

“You have to say Wallace was the greatest governor, because nobody else hardly ever was. Nobody will ever be governor of Alabama five times again.

“One day I was down there and he asked me how old I was. I said, ‘Governor, I’m 32.

“Wallace got a faraway look in his eye and he said, “I’ve been governor all yo’ damn life, haven’t I?”

Turning to present-day politics, he said he gets asked what will happen to current Gov. Robert Bentley, whose wife recently filed for divorce.

“We don’t know for sure what’s going on with that,” Flowers said. “But I tell people, the governor’s not really necessary.

“Big Jim was drunk his second term. Wallace was on pain pills. Fob spent his whole term duck hunting.

“Bentley at least shows up and tries,” he said.


“Of Goats and Governors, Six Decades of Alabama Political Stories,” is $29.95. It can be ordered from Flowers’ website,