"Greatest Generation' has Alabama roots

Published 4:56 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
George Wallace was a product of rural Alabama and came of age during the Great Depression. Alabamians who knew the Depression days are dwindling every year, much like our treasured World War II Veterans. Tom Brokaw was right when he called them the "Greatest Generation." They made our country great.
During the Depression Era very few Alabamians could afford to go to college. When Wallace entered the University of Alabama in the 1940's he, along with a throng of other WWII Veterans, were able to start college under the GI Bill.
This federal assistance helped pay tuition but there were still living expenses associated with going off to the University of Alabama or Auburn that had to be addressed. Wallace and other very ambitious men did it by supplementing their GI benefits with three or more part-time jobs while attending class.
Wallace never forgot his experience and the financial difficulty he had getting his education and law degree from the University of Alabama. Like other men who lived the Depression experience during their formative years it made an indelible impression on their political philosophy and psyche. They became FDR New Deal Democrats.
Wallace was a Progressive at heart. He believed in helping the little man, the small farmer and the blue collar worker. He was cut from the same cloth as Big Jim Folsom. That is why in fact he was Big Jim's south Alabama campaign manager while he was a freshman Legislator from Barbour County.
It was this egalitarian philosophy that made Wallace create our current system of Junior and Community Colleges during the 1960's. He would always point to this system as his hallmark legacy. Its birth was very political. He needed campaign money to run for President and there were a lot of building contracts and bond issues let to build this massive system
There were always hints of corruption and political payoffs surrounding the creation of the Junior College System. It was obvious to any casual observer that the colleges were located in communities where Wallace's Senate leader's districts were rather than the population centers of the state. Wallace's pitch was that a child in rural Alabama could go to college without having to pay room and board at a big University. Nevertheless, the System was born with a lot of politics surrounding it and has always been a very political system.
Although there was no ethics law at the time of the System's creation 40 years ago, they used a lot more restraint than what has been happening during the past few years. The graft and corruption uncovered in the past year is so brazen and bold that it would make the pre-ethics era of 1940's politics seem tame. It is unbelievable to think that in 2006 anyone could get away with the shenanigans discovered.
For example, it was revealed that ousted Chancellor Roy Johnson's immediate family received more than $560,000 for jobs and contracts in one year. Johnson was on the payroll, along with his wife, his son and his daughter. In addition, his daughter-in-law and his son-in-law had lucrative contracts with the System. The only people in Johnson's family who were not getting paid were his second cousin and his dog.
One fourth of the members of the Legislature or their wives have been given "jobs" at a Junior College, most after they became members of the Legislature. They have been given job titles like Population Services Coordinator or Recruiter, or Community Liaison or just Public Relations. The most egregious legislative example would have to be Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill. He is paid $48,000 a year as Auxiliary Services Coordinator at Bevill State and $49,000 a year as Special Population Services Coordinator at Shelton State neither of which schools are located in his hometown where he has a full-time law practice he supposedly works at all day. At the same time he also serves as Majority Leader in the Legislature which some would consider a fulltime job.
These examples are so unbelievable they are ludicrous but probably the most hilarious comes from Mobile's Bishop State, which is headed by a Legislator Yvonne Kennedy. Here it was reported that they put a 67 year old disabled grandmother and husband, who never attended classes, on basketball, baseball, and softball scholarships.
These illustrations are just the tip of the iceberg. This saga of nepotism and corruption continues to evolve. It is headed towards being the biggest scandal in Alabama's political history.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us <http://www.steveflowers.us/>.

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