December full of political events

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A cornucopia of significant political events occurred during the closing month of the year that may very well have slipped under the radar screen. That is not unusual given the fact that one of the most significant occurrences of 2012 was the demise of the daily newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. The state’s three former largest newspapers in the state’s three largest cities have basically gone out of business and only print a paper three days a week with stale news. The state lost some of its best journalists along with the ability to gather and report investigative inquiries into the machinations of state politics.

The hallmark occurrences of December were the reopening of VictoryLand in Macon County and the debacle at Alabama State University surrounding the departure of their president after less than four months on the job.

The massacre of dozens of schoolchildren in Newton, Connecticut brought a renewed outcry for the elimination of automatic weapons even in the Heart of Dixie. However, Gov. Bentley reminded us that we had our own tragedy in 2011 when hundreds of Alabamians lost their lives to devastating tornadoes.

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It is obvious when I visit with Gov. Bentley that the death and devastation of these terrible tornadoes left a poignant, heart wrenching, indelible impression on our physician governor. He saw firsthand the aftermath, suffering and personal tragedy these storms inflicted on Alabamians.

You can also tell that his most rewarding accomplishment during his time as governor is saving the small town of Hackleburg in Northwest Alabama. The governor was able to give them an additional grant in December. His actions enabled Hackleburg’s one industry, a Wrangler jean plant, to rebuild and start over. The town and the plant were both basically blown away by the tornadoes. Bentley saved Hackleburg. My guess is that he will do pretty well there when he runs for reelection next year.

Bentley quietly appointed his former legislative colleague, Jeremy Oden, to the Public Service Commission seat vacated by Twinkle Cavanaugh when she was elected President of the panel.  Oden was an obscure legislator and needs to build name identification if he intends to win a full term of his own in 2014. Oden and fellow PSC member Terry Dunn have zero statewide name identification.

Speaking of Dunn, he made a bold move recently, which may shed some light on his true colors. There is an old saying that home folks know you best. Dunn had attempted to enter politics in his home of Etowah County several times. He was soundly defeated in each endeavor and is thought of as somewhat of a kook in his hometown. In 2010 he stumbled into the race for the PSC as a Republican. He was given very little chance of defeating a popular Democratic incumbent Susan Parker. However, 2010 was a watershed Republican year in Alabama. Every Republican on the ballot won in an avalanche of straight GOP voting. Dunn was swept into office. Probably 99% of Alabama voters had never heard of him and those same 99% could not tell you today that they voted for him or who he is or much less what political stripes he wears.

It appears that Mr. Dunn may be a closet Obama Democrat. He recently took up the mantle of a group of national liberal environmental extremists and offered up a plan to revise a rate structure set up decades ago to keep Alabama utility rates low. His fellow PSC members quickly thwarted Dunn’s liberal agenda. Many Obama Democrats lauded Dunn’s exploits. Neither his fellow PSC members nor the Republican business community were impressed.

The Alabama Farmers Federation elected Chilton County farmer, Jimmy Parnell, as their new president at their annual meeting in Montgomery in December. Parnell has been active in ALFA politics for most of his life. He is only 48 and is a successful fifth generation timber and beef cattle farmer.

Former First Lady Jamelle Folsom passed away in December at age 85. She was a beautiful and gracious lady. She is the only woman in state history to be both a former First Lady and the mother of an Alabama governor. She was married to the legendary two-term Alabama Governor James E. “Big Jim” Folsom. She was the mother of former Alabama Governor Jim Folsom, Jr.

Big Jim was a widower and was making one of his famous suds bucket speeches in North Alabama. He was in his 40’s and spotted the striking brunette who was not even 20 in the crowd and declared that she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen and that he was going to marry her and he did.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at