State shifted parties almost 50 years ago

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, June 4, 2014

You know the results of Tuesday’s primary elections. However, my column had to go to press prior to Tuesday’s vote. Therefore, we will discuss and analyze the outcome next week.

It is doubtful that there were any surprises. Gov. Robert Bentley more than likely waltzed to the GOP nomination. He will probably face Parker Griffith in this fall’s General Election. Ironically, both Griffith and Bentley are 72-year-old retired physicians. It is not likely that matchup has ever occurred in an Alabama Governor’s race.

Sen. Jeff Sessions was on the GOP ballot yesterday but it was only a formality. Sessions has drawn a base on balls for his fourth six-year term in Washington. Our congressional delegation will continue to be made up of eight Republicans and one Democrat. We will have six GOP Congress members and one lone Democrat. Both of our U.S. Senators, Sessions and Richard Shelby, are Republican.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic watershed Goldwater Republican Southern landslide. That 1964 election changed the partisan political landscape of the Deep South. On this date in 1964 our entire congressional delegation was all-Democratic. What a difference 50 years makes.

Let me take you back to the fall of 1964. Our senatorial team of Lister Hill and John Sparkman was unparalleled. This duo was the envy of every state in the nation. Along with Hill and Sparkman, strolling along the Potomac from Alabama at that time was an eight-member congressional delegation that boasted over 120 years of longevity in Washington.

Among the group were the likes of George Andrews, George Grant, Albert Rains, Bob Jones, Carl Elliot, Armistead Selden, Kenneth Roberts and George Huddleston. These gentlemen were similar in backgrounds. It was as though they were born planning their paths to Congress. Amazingly all eight graduated from the University of Alabama Law School and were all attorneys by profession.

George Andrews was born in Barbour County, the Home of Governors. He served for years from the old 3rd District, which covered the southeastern part of the state.

George Grant was also born in Barbour County. However, he practiced law in Troy before going to Congress in 1938. Grant followed Lister Hill as the Representative of the 2nd District for 28 years.
Albert Rains represented the 5th District for 20 years. He was a very effective Congressman for the people of Gadsden and Sand Mountain. He was a successful businessman and banker besides being an attorney and congressman.

Rains’ friend and neighbor to the north was the legendary Bob Jones of Scottsboro. Bob Jones very effectively represented the Tennessee Valley for over 20 years.

Carl Elliot of Walker County was born in rural Franklin County. He represented the northwest Alabama area for 16 years. He was a legendary liberal. Like all of his colleagues at this time, he was a graduate of the University of Alabama Law School and a true Horatio Alger story.

Armistead Selden was an aristocratic Black Belter from Greensboro. He represented his home area for two decades.

Kenneth Roberts was born in Piedmont and practiced law in Anniston before going to Congress in 1951. He served the area where he was born for 14 years in Washington.

George Huddleston was Birmingham’s Congressman in 1964. He was born in Birmingham and was a U.S. Attorney before representing Jefferson County for 12 years in Congress.

These gentlemen assumed that they would be in Congress forever as they strolled along the Potomac in the fall of 1964. However, there were some strong headwinds howling back home in Alabama. This storm cloud was hovering over the entire South.

Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats had passed a Civil Rights Act earlier that year. White Southerners were livid. They vented their anger on the national Democratic Party on Election Day in November of 1964.

The South changed parties that day. This sea change was known as the Goldwater landslide. Alabamians not only voted for Barry Goldwater for president, they vehemently pulled the Republican lever. Thus, voting for every Republican on the ballot.

This straight ticket voting wiped out five of Alabama’s veteran Democratic congressmen. Included in the carnage were George Grant, Albert Rains, Carl Elliott, Kenneth Roberts and George Huddleston. These men had a total of 90 years of seniority. The GOP tidal wave swept a lot of Alabama Washington ammunition into the Potomac on that day 50 years ago this year.