In politics some grudges never die
Published 2:42 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005
By by Steve Flowers
Alabama's most masterful politician, George Wallace, would confide in some of his closest cronies sage bits of his political genius. Joe Azbell was a close follower of Wallace and related a theory that Wallace lived by in politics.
The theory being that once you get an enemy or hated person or entity, you run against that enemy and beat up on it constantly. During the 1960s Wallace made his boogieman the issue of segregation.
Unquestionably his vicious attacks on integration caused racial turmoil throughout Alabama and the entire nation.
He was considered the most ardent race baiter in America. However, when this boogieman ran its course, Wallace found another enemy: the Alabama Power Company. In the 1970s Wallace focused his venom toward the Power Company and fought and cursed it at every turn. The Power Company paid a heavy price at the hands of Wallace.
After Wallace victimized the Power Company as long as he could, the company made the decision that never again would it be brutalized and crucified by any politician. The Power Company put its money behind that vow and has never been beaten since. The Power Company, for decades, has poured untold millions into its political action committees.
Today it is one of the three largest contributors to political campaigns in Alabama and probably number one. Alabama Power, the AEA, and the Business Council of Alabama are the top givers to campaigns. However, the Power Company is probably the Business Council's top giver which basically puts the Power Company at the top.
Wallace's haranguing of the Power Company continued unabated into the 1970s. As a result, the company set sail on its odyssey to never be demagogued again. It became unbeatable.
The utility dominated the political landscape in Alabama, especially in the State Legislature and most especially in the State Senate. In the late 1970s, twenty-five out of thirty-five members of the State Senate were lawyers. It was rumored that every lawyer in the Senate automatically went on retainer with the Power Company at a handsome fee.
There was a joke that circulated at the time that went like this, "How much does it take to buy a State Senator from the power company?" The answer, "Nobody knows, it has never sold one."
Well, there is an old saying that "an apple doesn't fall far from the tree" or "like father like son." George Wallace Jr. has made his political home at the Public Service Commission for the last decade.
As you know the commission regulates the rates for the Alabama Power Company and other utilities. Wallace Jr. has continuously voted against rate increases for the Power Company. This past year the Public Service Commission granted the Power Company a $2 billion rate hike.
The vote was 2 to 1; the dissenter was George Wallace Jr. It seems that Wallace Jr. still carries the grudge against the giant utility that his father encouraged. Fortunately for Alabama Power the other two commissioners, Jim Sullivan and Jan Cook, always fall in line.
Both Wallace and Sullivan are rumored to be looking at running for higher state offices in 2006. I wonder which one is more likely to be the recipient of the Power Company campaign largesse.
On another note, Governor Riley's former Finance Director and Riley's choice for Supreme Court, Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, is singing a different tune. When he was Finance Director he slashed the Court's budget and adamantly turned down requests for more money for the courts when Roy Moore was Chief Justice and headed the court system.
Now that he is heading up the court system, Justice Nabers says that he thinks an increase in the court budget is necessary. It is an ironic twist of fate.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us <">http://www.steveflowers.us/>.