Archived Story

From the Statehouse

Published 5:59am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Most political observers were shocked and somewhat in awe when State Senator Scott Beason chose to challenge veteran congressman Spencer Bachus in a Republican primary.

Beason’s Don Quixote mission is a pragmatic approach to move up the political ladder in a normal setting. Beason is in the middle of a four-year term and has a free shot at the 20-year veteran congressman.

However, this scenario is so surprising because Beason has written the book on how to get bad publicity, especially in that particular Jefferson/Shelby County suburban district.

It is almost comical that someone would seek higher office after being stripped of a powerful senate committee by his fellow Republicans because of embarrassing escapades.

Then he was castigated as a racist and opportunist by a federal judge. He single-handedly and arrogantly refused to allow Jefferson County to avoid bankruptcy. He also sponsored the immigration bill that made the state look racist and intolerant.

I guess Beason’s theory in his quest is that any publicity is good publicity.

There is an old political adage that espouses that theory. It is, “just spell my name right.” Let me share with you the origin of that saying.

Alabama has never had a more colorful character than legendary two-term governor Big Jim Folsom. At 6’ 9” Big Jim was the most uninhibited and gregarious governor to ever live in the Governor’s Mansion.

You have to realize that during his era there was no television. Folks only listened to the radio to hear country music and probably only on Saturday night to listen to the Grand Ole Opry live from Nashville featuring the likes of Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams.

There were no constant news networks, only the newspapers. There were the big city dailies, like the Birmingham News, Montgomery Advertiser and Mobile Press Register. However, most folks in Alabama lived in rural enclaves and only read their local newspaper.

This was their only source of information. Big Jim’s people lived in rural Alabama. So Big Jim only catered to the rural people and rural newspapers. He ignored, made fun of and ran against the lying big city daily newspapers.

These papers, as you can guess, had a good bit of animosity towards old Big Jim. Big Jim knew that the terrible things they wrote about him did not affect him one iota. Therefore, he had total immunity from the media.

The small town newspapers only wrote about Big Jim when he came to town. They would feature him on the front page smiling and kissing the head cheerleader of the local high school.

One day the daily newspapers were getting ready to write a seething story about Big Jim’s administration, which they would do every few months.

Out of courtesy they called Big Jim to tell him they were going to write an expose about him and give him an opportunity to tell his side.

Big Jim said, “Boys y’all come on down and see Big Jim and tell me what you got on me, and by the way have a drink with old Big Jim.” They dubiously came to the governor’s office leery of what antics the “Little Man’s Friend” had in store for them.

Big Jim did not disappoint. To their chagrin, Big Jim met them reared back in the governor’s chair with his barefoot size 17 feet perched on the desk and a glass of bourbon in his hand.

He greeted the big city newspapers with total disdain and ridicule and bellowed out, “Where you boys been so long. I’ve been missing you. Have a drink with old Big Jim and tell me what you got on me.”

They replied, “Governor, this is not a laughing matter. We have it on reliable sources and we have a list here of 37 people you’ve hired over in the Highway Department and circumvented the merit system and put them on the state payroll.

Big Jim took a long pause then poured himself another drink and blurted out, “You lying daily newspapers, y’all lying about poor old Big Jim again. I ain’t hired 37 people over there. I got a list right here on my desk and it says I’ve hired 70 and the only merit they’ve got is that they’re Big Jim’s friends.”

In total dismay and bewilderment the big city newspapers declared to Big Jim, “Governor, we are going to put what you said in the newspaper tomorrow.”

Big Jim, who knew that his voters did not read the Birmingham News, said, “Boys, I don’t care what you write about me. Just spell my name right.” Big Jim coined that phrase that day.

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.

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