The Machine produces Alabama power

Published 3:37 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
There has been a political organization on the University of Alabama campus, called the Machine, since 1888. It is a secretive coalition of fraternities and sororities that has controlled campus politics since that time. It has completely dominated campus political life because of the cohesiveness and commitment to the Greek system within the University of Alabama. The student newspaper, the Crimson and White, has exposed the Machine periodically since the 1920s.
The Machine has been the training ground for Alabama politicians for over a century. Our two legendary senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, were products of the Machine, as well as our current Senior Senator Richard Shelby. Over the years a good many of Alabama's Supreme Court Justices and Legislators were members of the Machine. At one time nine of the ten members of our congressional delegation were Machine alumni.
Over the years the University of Alabama has been the spawning ground for Alabama political leaders. It is only natural becauseAlabama's forte is business, political science, and law, whereas Auburn excels in agriculture, engineering, and architecture. So it is only natural that the University of Alabama would attract young Alabamians interested in politics.
As a teenager I thrived on politics and was a high school politico. When it came time to decide on a college I put only one school on my college entrance exam. It was a given that I would go to the University of Alabama and join the infamous Machine. I did and I confess that I was a member of the Machine. It was a mystic group even at that time.
The 1970s were a time of unrest in the country. There were antiwar riots raging on campuses all over the country. It was a radical era and being a member of a conservative fraternity was ridiculed as being frivolous and not cool. The peace movement was big even at Alabama. There were a lot of hippies even at the Capstone. They got inspired and challenged us but we still prevailed and controlled campus politics.
Back then we called it going downstairs. Even members of your own fraternity were not sure which members of their fraternity were their voting delegates to secretive Theta Mu Epsilon. Most of the Crimson Tider fraternity members were more interested in being party animals than political animals. Therefore they would leave it to us, the house politicos, to pick their candidates in secret late night private meetings downstairs in the basement of one of the Machine fraternity houses.
The delegates would return with a slate of candidates endorsed by the Machine and all of the fraternity and sorority members would dutifully vote the Machine slate. This loyalty to the fraternity candidates would deliver an insurmountable block of votes to the Machine candidates and because the non Greek students would not know who the Machine candidates were they would inadvertently vote for the Machine candidates because generally they were the best qualified. The Machine would groom a candidate for office early and build an impressive resume of campus public service that would make them a natural for higher office, such as SGA President and Homecoming Queen.
Last year University of Alabama SGA President Mary Margaret Carroll, an English and political science major from Ozark who is of course a Machine member, spoke openly and candidly about the Machine. She said that it is time for the Machine to come out of the closet and become an upfront political party. I agree because that is really all it is anyway.
In closing, to paraphrase a famous line from a legendary Christmas story, "Yes Virginia, there is a political machine at theUniversity of Alabama."
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 <> .

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