Southern Politics produces characters
By By Steve Flowers
Southern politics has produced the most colorful political characters in U.S. history. We are in a league of our own in that category. Even cartoons have depicted the stereotypical southern senators with a frock coat and long white hair with a deep southern accent. These caricatures have even come to life with the likes of Strom Thurmond, Sam Ervin and our own Howell Heflin.
We have spawned the nation’s most legendary demagogues. South Carolina had Pitchfork Ben Tillman, Georgia had the Talmadges, and Mississippi had Theodore Bilbo. We produced George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom. Louisiana had the ultimate demagogue, Huey Long. His family continued the tradition. His brother, Earl, followed him as Governor and his son, Russell, followed him to the U.S. Senate.
The difference in Louisiana and the rest of the south was that their politicians were not only colorful but also totally corrupt. In fact, they were expected to be corrupt. It is part of their culture. The politicians in Louisiana are actually proud of their heritage of corruption. They boast of their politicians being decadent and dishonest. They love to brag of elections being bought and stolen. Louisiana is actually more like a third world banana republic. This debauchery and tradition has even continued in recent years, long after our political players had become more placid.
In recent years, Louisiana elected Edwin Edwards, a flamboyant Governor of impeccable corruption and uninhibitedness. Most recently, five years ago, they elected a U.S. Senator named David Vitter. Vitter ran as the most religious right wing, anti-abortion, pro-morality, pro-family Republican in Louisiana’s history. After Vitter was elected, he promptly became the number one customer of a prostitution ring in Washington. One madam had him recorded with twelve different paramours. However, Vitter asked for forgiveness and moved on with being Louisiana’s Republican Senator. He is running for reelection this year and is favored to win.
It is only fitting and proper that Vitter’s opponent is a porn star named Stormy Daniels. She is 30 years old, beautiful and flamboyant. She is a perfect candidate for Louisiana. Shortly after her announcement, her political advisors 1996 Audi was blown up by someone outside his apartment in New Orleans. Meanwhile, a Louisiana congressman was convicted by a Virginia jury for accepting a $100,000 bribe and stashing the cash in his refrigerator.
Louisiana’s other senator, Mary Landrieu, the daughter of New Orleans’ former colorful Mayor Moon Landrieu, recently supported the Obama healthcare package based solely on extra Medicaid money for Louisiana. Her vote was critical and she unashamedly stated that she was supporting this historic legislation to extort extra Medicaid money in exchange for her vote. Therefore, it appears that the proper protocol for a Louisiana senator to vote for a historic legislative initiative is to sell out your vote for federal pork barrel allocations.
Louisiana is truly a world in its own politically. However, our own Jefferson County is working hard to compare with Louisiana. I would submit our state’s largest county against anybody in the country for political corruption. Jefferson County Alabama may surpass Louisiana or New Jersey when it comes to political corruption and ineptness. The county garnered national recognition for teetering on bankruptcy due to political chicanery surrounding dubious and illegal bond swap transactions.
Numerous Jefferson County commissioners have gone to jail in recent years. Jeff Germany was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to over three years in jail. Chris McNair is serving five years for bribery regarding the sewer system. State Senator E.B. McClain was convicted last year on 48 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery and money laundering.
There is no partisan deference when it comes to crime in Jefferson County. Republican Commissioner John Katopodis was convicted on 97 counts of bribery, mail and wire fraud and is in jail awaiting sentencing. Republican Commissioners Gary White and Mary Buckelew were convicted of bribery surrounding the sewer bond swap dealings. Buckelew pled guilty in 2008 for illegally accepting gifts from an investment banker.
The climax of the Jefferson County bond swap shenanigans culminated late last year with the conviction of former Jefferson County Commission Chairman and Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford. The problem for Jefferson County residents is not only do they get a national black eye for corruption but they will probably wind up paying $300 per month for sewer bills the rest of their lives. Jefferson County probably will not get a dome stadium either. Langford’s dream went down with him as well as Jefferson County’s bond rating.
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 reached at www.steveflowers.us.