Wallace was one of a kind
Steve Flowers, Guest columnist
When George Wallace was elected governor in 1962, he started a virtual monopoly on the governor's office that lasted more than two decades, 1963-1987.Alabama voters elected Wallace governor for an unprecedented four terms, 1962, 1970, 1974, and 1982.
He was basically elected as defacto governor during the administration of his wife Lurleen Burns Wallace from 1967 to 1968. During the same period, he ran for president unsuccessfully four times.
There was hardly an election during the 25-year span that Wallace was not on the ballot. He ran for Governor as a Democrat and nationally on different party labels. He was basically the racist candidate who also railed against federal power.
In Alabama, he was either loved or hated. There was no middle ground. He had a tremendous charisma and a God given gift for remembering names. He was a populist who appealed to his followers with anti-federal, racists, and states' rights messages.
His biggest achievements were in road construction, education, and especially junior colleges and trade schools, and industrial development.
He shifted his racial views out of necessity in the twilight of his career in order to win a last term in 1982. It was in this same year, 1982, that at age 30, I was elected to my first term in the Legislature.
I had first met George Wallace as an 11-year-old page in 1963 in the first months of his first term. My mentor and best buddy was Mr. Gardner Bassett who had served as my county's representative for 24 years. Mr. Bassett took me in to meet Gov. Wallace. Wallace told me that he had been a page from Barbour County as a young boy like me.
Mr. Bassett told the Governor that I loved politics like they did and that when he, Mr. Bassett, retired I was going to follow him in his House Seat, which I did. Gov. Wallace never forgot that conversation.
Fast forward to 20 years later, Gov. Wallace is Governor for his 5th time in 1983. I was a Freshman Representative from Pike County, but on top of that I had Gov. Wallace's hometown of Clayton in my district thus becoming his representative. He remembered 20 years earlier, vividly, and reminded me daily of our first meeting.
We had a great relationship those four years. He made me a floor leader and gave me almost everything I wanted for my district. I had total access to the Governor and one day I was visiting with him and he told me the same story he always did.
It started with, "Steve, you know I'm kin to all the Shepherds and Flemings in the northern part of Pike County. You know Miss Janie Wallace, the librarian in Brundidge, is my aunt. You know I was born in Clio and those folks in Brundidge love me. I am very popular in Brundidge and Troy, too."
He would ask me about every barber in Troy by name. He loved to campaign in barbershops and beauty shops.
"You know, Steve, I remember when you were a page boy. I was a page boy like you."
Well, on this particular day, after going through the same story verbatim, he got a far away, smiling, nostalgic look on his face and said to me, "Steve, how old are you now?"
I said, "Governor, I'm 30 years old." He smiled, took a pull on his ever-present cigar and said, "I've been Governor most all your life." I smiled back and said, "Governor, you sure have. I guess you'll always be Governor of Alabama."