We Southerners can lay claim to a rich political legacy. We have enjoyed the most colorful characters in U.S. political history. Our annals are filled with the likes of Huey Long, Theodore Bilbo, Herman and Gene Talmadge, Strom Thurmond and our own Alabama legends, Big Jim Folsom and George Wallace.
A very ironic, interesting, and inexplicable occurrence surfaces when you study Southern politics in detail. Each Deep South state has a region and even a county that spawns an inordinate number of governors and senators.
One of the most pronounced is Edgefield County, South Carolina. However, the most prominent and prolific county in Southern history for producing governors is our own Barbour County. These folks have produced six Alabama governors. If you were to count George Wallace’s four terms, they would have elected a governor from their county nine times. Wallace is obviously Barbour County’s most famous native son. In fact, his wife Lurleen is one of the six governors. She was actually born and raised in Northport in Tuscaloosa County but Barbour County claims her since she lived and voted in Barbour County when she was elected governor.
In recent years, Cullman County has had somewhat of a run at being a prominent producer of governors. Big Jim Folsom served two terms in the 1940s and 50s. Then, during an eight-year period from 1986-1994 they had a governor and lieutenant governor at the same time. Guy Hunt was governor and Jim Folsom Jr. was lieutenant governor. Then Jim Jr. became governor for a couple of years when Hunt was removed from office.
However, today in current Alabama politics we have two very significant counties when it comes to having native sons and daughters in prominent elective office in the state. The county of Wilcox is interesting and Tuscaloosa County’s current prominence is unparalleled.
Wilcox County is a small sparsely populated Black Belt county in the southwest corner of the state. It has only about 15,000 people and therefore probably has three times as many pine trees as it does people. However, get this fact. One of our U.S. Senators, Jeff Sessions, our Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, and former 1st District Congressman Jo Bonner all grew up in Wilcox County, all about the same time and all knew each other growing up. You can add to the mix Congressman Bonner’s sister, Judy Bonner. She is the president of The University of Alabama.
Speaking of The University of Alabama, the Alabama Crimson Tide has the premier college football program in America and Tuscaloosa has also become the kingdom for Alabama politics. Tuscaloosa is the home county of both our sitting Gov. Robert Bentley and our senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. That is quite a duo. The Druid City and Capstone also illustrated some expert political savvy during last year’s congressional reapportionment.
They lassoed in Congressman Robert Aderholt and he is Alabama’s future in Congress when it comes to appropriations.
They have one of the brightest and most capable House delegations ever assembled for a county their size. They have two of the most outstanding freshmen in a much-heralded freshman House class. John Merrill and Bill Poole, both already effective, and Rep. Chris England, who is one of the sharpest young legislators on Goat Hill.
They also have two outstanding state senators in Gerald Allen and astute freshman Sen. Greg Reed, whom they share with Walker County.
As though Tuscaloosa needed more political prominence, their legislative influence became exponentially more significant in recent weeks. Rep. Bill Poole was recently named Chairman of the House Education Budget Committee.
In addition, one of the most prominent political consultants in the state, Joe Perkins, calls Tuscaloosa home. They may as well move the state capitol to Tuscaloosa. Some people would argue that Richard Shelby has brought home a good bit of the national treasury to Tuscaloosa already.