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1986 primaries still making waves

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY-Of the 14 gubernatorial elections I have covered or been involved in there is no doubt that none was quite so significant as 1986.
It changed forever the political landscape in Alabama.
The Democratic Primary that year included four well-known contenders, all who held or had held high state office. They were Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley, Atty. Gen. Charlie Graddick, former Gov. Fob James and former Lt. Gov. George McMillan. Baxley led the ticket but was forced into a runoff with Graddick.
On the day of the Democratic primary the Republicans had held a primary of their own, and an relatively unknown former probate judge from Cullman County, Harold Guy Hunt, won the nomination. Few people paid much attention to that vote.
One who did was Graddick. In the runoff he openly solicited those voters who had participated in the GOP primary to cross over and vote for him in the Democratic Primary.
Thousands of them did and after trailing Baxley by 70,000 votes in the first primary he turned it around and won the Democratic nomination by 9,000 votes.
Baxley screamed "foul" and a five-member group representing the State Democratic Executive Committee agreed with him, ruling that the "cross over" votes were illegal. Graddick's nomination was voided, Baxley was hand-picked as the nominee and the people of Alabama were so incensed they overwhelmingly elected Republican Hunt as governor in November.
The question, which will never be answered, is what would have been the outcome if the Democrats had ordered a second runoff election. Most likely Baxley would have won, he would have trounced Hunt in the General Election and most probably the Democrats would have continued to control the governor's office.
No matter, Alabama gubernatorial politics has never been the same since that debacle of 1986. In fact, Republicans have won the office of governor in every election since except one.
1990–Gov. Hunt won a second term, defeating AEA Executive Director Paul Hubbert by a comfortable margin in the General Election. Little remembered is that Hubbert had defeated Don Siegelman in the primary.
1994–A year earlier Gov. Hunt had been removed from office after being convicted of a felony and succeeding him was Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., a Democrat. He was the son of the former two-time Gov. James E. (Big Jim) Folsom. However his time in the office was short-lived. In 1994 he was defeated by Democrat-turned-Republican Fob James, the former governor.
1998–Don Siegelman, who had been elected to more state offices than any man in history, finally won the office he most coveted in 1998, defeating incumbent Gov. James. He is the lone Democrat to win the office since the fiasco of 1986. His chief campaign issue was a state lottery to fund education, but in a strange paradox, after electing him largely on that promise the same voters overwhelmingly rejected the lottery.
2002–If the James election in 1978 over the "3-B's" was the biggest upset in the past 50 years, this election was a close second. Siegelman ran for a second term but was challenged in the General Election by a little known Congressman from Clay County, Bob Riley. In a bitter contest, which went down to the wire, Riley was elected. A colossal screw up in the transcribing of the votes in Baldwin County created a tempest, but when the dust settled Siegelman opted not to contest the election returns.
As I end my two-week stroll down memory lane I must make a couple of other points about gubernatorial campaigns. What I most miss are the old days when the candidates had to "stump the state" in order to get known, making eight or 10 speeches a day, most often accompanied by some form of entertainment.
Television changed that. Stumping is a thing of the past. And television also did something else– it has inflated the cost of running for governor by a tenfold or more.
Big Jim Folsom reported he had spent $400,000 in his successful campaign for governor in 1954 and people were shocked. Both Riley and Siegelman spent more than $10 million each in 2002 and even more will be spent in 2006.

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