Bedford has earned reputation for getting pork
Published 6:44 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By By Steve Flowers
Slings and arrows have been hurled at Russellville State Senator Roger Bedford for over a decade because of his legendary ability to get extra state dollars for his northwest Alabama district. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee he has had immense power appropriating and distributing taxpayers’ money to his constituents.
It is because of the largesse of political bacon brought home to his area that he has been dubbed by the state media as the Pork King of Goat Hill.
Although Bedford has been tarred and feathered by the state press for getting pork for the folks in the northwest corner of the state, the home folks love him. He is a hero in his home county and area. The state press hates the fact that they cannot affect his popularity in his district.
Bedford’s prowess as a power in the Legislature seems to be inherent in his corner of northwest Alabama. The area has bred powerful legislators for several generations. Prior to Bedford, Joe Fine was a native of Russellville and a practicing lawyer in his hometown. Both men are strikingly similar. Besides both being from Russellville and both being lawyers, they both went to the Senate at a young age and both quickly became effective.
In addition, both are very smart, very articulate and quick studies on the art of parliamentary procedure. They both became one of the most effective and influential senators almost immediately. Both ran unsuccessful campaigns for Attorney General. Fine is now arguably the most prominent contract lobbyist in Montgomery and Bedford is easily one of the three most powerful members of the State Senate.
Even though Bedford and Fine have made their mark as wielding immense clout for their northwest Alabama home, they neither one can hold a candle to their predecessor the legendary Rankin Fite. Mr. Fite served one term in the Senate during the Folsom era and was a Big Jim man.
However, he moved to the House of Representatives in the 1960s and became Speaker of the House. Now, you talk about a pork king. If you think the press has had a field day with Roger Bedford, today’s media would have gone berserk with Rankin.
Rankin Fite did everything but move the Capitol to northwest Alabama. He practically rebuilt his hometown of Hamilton with new streets and sewer systems. Rankin had made a fortune as a divorce lawyer in the quickie divorce system Alabama had created in the 1960s. He got state funds to build an airport for Hamilton that would rival any airport of cities ten times its size so he could fly his plane to and from the Capitol and would not have to drive. It was simply unbelievable how much pork he brought home to northwest Alabama.
Rankin wielded tremendous power as presiding officer of the House. If you crossed Rankin you better watch out. He had a memory like an elephant and believed in rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies. The Governor wanted Rankin in the Speaker’s chair. He ran a tight ship.
As a young boy in the 1960s I was a House Page and I remember Rankin Fite. I would watch him carefully. Although he was beginning to suffer from palsy and his hand would shake uncontrollably with the gavel, it had not affected his mind. As a youngster I was learning the legislative process and my mentor and representative would patiently answer all of my questions. There was this young loquacious representative from Birmingham who was always ranting and introducing bills. Nobody seemed to like him much, especially old Rankin. He would ignore the young whipper snapper until everybody else had been recognized.
One day the fellow had a real buzz on. He had a bill that was going to change Alabama’s entire tax system. Rankin automatically sent the young fellow’s bill to the Highway Safety Committee. This confused me because I had learned that all revenue bills go to the Ways and Means Committee.
So I asked my mentor when and where does the Highway Safety Committee meet? He said, it doesn’t. It was Rankin’s private graveyard committee. He was Chairman and they never met. So if he did not like you and your legislation, your agenda met a quick and permanent death in the Highway Safety Committee.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.