• 82°

Politics can be one huge family business

By By Steve Flowers
Those who inherit businesses from their parents are fortunate, especially if they enjoy that business or profession. The name and reputation of that inherited firm gives quite a head start to the beneficiary. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” The author of Proverbs, King Solomon, was indeed blessed by being the son of a great man. David was his father. Solomon was wise and rich but he was given quite the leg up with such a famous father.
The political business is no different than any other. In fact, it is probably more beneficial to have a father in politics than in any other arena if you want to go into politics. You need to simply look at our most recent past President to see the advantage. George H.W. Bush made it easier for his son George W. Bush. You may not have seen the end of this legacy. Son Jeb Bush, a popular two-term Governor of Florida, is waiting in the wings.
The Kennedy name has also spawned numerous brothers, sons and daughters onto the New England and national political scene. Another legacy I predict will blossom in the future is the daughter of Bill and Hillary, one Chelsea Clinton.
We have seen as much of the family advantage in Alabama politics as any other state. The monumental 1962 Governor’s Race saw three of the greatest names in Alabama politics that year: George Wallace, Big Jim Folsom and Ryan DeGraffenried. Twenty years later, the three best known and most promising young politicians in Alabama were Jim Folsom, Jr., George Wallace, Jr. and Ryan DeGraffenried, Jr.
All three owed their political prominence to inheriting their father’s names. Name identification is the most valuable asset a politician can acquire and these three inherited this precious commodity.
George Wallace was elected Governor four times and his wife once. His name was on the ballot for Governor and President ten times. Big Jim Folsom was elected Governor twice and was on the ballot ten times.
Ryan DeGraffenried ran second for Governor in 1962 and was heavily favored to win in 1966 but died in a plane crash campaigning that year. Their sons did not reach the pinnacles that their fathers achieved but have benefited immensely from their names.
Jim Folsom Jr. has come the closest. He has been elected to the Public Service Commission three times and Lt. Governor three times. His last victory in 2006 was so close I am convinced that Big Jim’s reservoir of populous popularity in rural Alabama won that race from the grave for Little Jim.
Tim James, the son of two-term Governor Fob James, is actively campaigning for the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010. Jim Folsom Jr. will probably be elected to an unprecedented fourth term as Lt. Governor next year. Rob Riley, the son of our current Governor Bob Riley, may be poised to make a venture into the political arena in the future. He could channel his father’s popularity into a future foray onto the Alabama political stage.
In the legislative ranks the name identification inheritance factor enabled Jabo Waggoner to win a legislative seat from Jefferson County at a young age due to his father Jabo Waggoner Sr. being a fiery segregationist Birmingham politician allied with Bull Conner. Young Jabo is now 70 and has been in the Legislature for 36 years.
Phil Poole won his first legislative seat at age 26 due to his famous father Victor Poole. Likewise, Gadsden Representative Craig Ford followed his father Joe Ford in his House seat after he passed away. Earl Hilliard Jr. is following his father Earl Hilliard Sr., who served in the State Senate and Congress. Young Hilliard is in the State House and aspires to go to Congress.
Wives can also benefit from name identification transference. Vivian Figures took her husband’s State Senate seat upon his early death from a stroke. Her husband Michael was a powerful State Senator from Mobile. She has served with distinction in that seat. No doubt Lucy Baxley was propelled into state politics by being the former wife of Bill Baxley, a two-term Attorney General and Lt. Governor.
There is a new generation waiting to inherit political legacies. I already mentioned Chelsea Clinton on the national level. On the state level the one to watch is Young Roger Bedford III. The 21-year-old son of longtime powerful State Senator Roger Bedford was elected as an Obama delegate to the Democratic Convention while his father went pledged to Hillary Clinton.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted atwww.steveflowers.us