Small towns have shaped leaders

Published 8:22pm Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Writers and historians have done extensive research over the years seeking to ascertain how our nation’s leaders reached their pinnacle of power. These exhaustive studies have delved into the personas from every angle imaginable. Most of these analyses begin with someone’s childhood.

Being a student of Alabama politics allow me to share with you my study of the backgrounds of our governors. My assessment is that in the past six decades small town boys succeed. It may be because Alabama was made up of small towns in the past generations that almost all of our governors have hailed from small towns. My assumption is that growing up in a small town allows someone to develop confidence and leadership abilities that give them an advantage.

For example, a person from a small place who has leadership talents can develop them better than someone from a large place. It is much easier in a small town to be class president, captain of the football team and basically be the big fish in a small pond. That small town person grows up expecting to be the leader. They expect to be governor or president.

Regardless of the reason, my observation and research clearly reveals that small town boys have dominated Alabama politics and the governor’s office. A look at the past 66 years tells the story.

In 1946, a 6-feet, 9-inches giant named Big Jim Folsom came storming out of the hills of north Alabama to break the Big Mules and Big Planters stranglehold on the governor’s office. Big Jim grew up in Elba and lived most of his adult life in Cullman.

In 1950, Gordon Persons won the Governor’s office. He was from Montgomery. Let us call Montgomery a city and give the city boys one governor. Big Jim came back to win a second term in 1954. That is two for the country and one for the city.

The small town boys had a clear run for the next 40 years. In 1958, John Patterson became governor. Patterson’s home was Phenix City but he was born in a Tallapoosa County crossroads. Then the Fightin’ Little Judge from Barbour County won his first term as governor in 1962. George Wallace was from the small Barbour County hamlet of Clio. His wife, Lurleen, followed him as governor in 1966. She was born and raised in the Tuscaloosa County town of Northport.

Upon Lurleen’s death from cancer in 1968, Albert Brewer became governor. Brewer was from the middle-size town of Decatur but still no metropolis. Wallace defeated Brewer in 1970 in a monumental battle for his second term. Wallace won a third term in 1974.

In 1978, Fob James won a major upset victory. James was from the small east Alabama valley mill town of Lanett. Wallace won his fourth and final term in 1982. He was followed in 1986 by Alabama’s first Republican governor, Guy Hunt. Hunt was from the village of Holly Pond in Cullman County. His successor, Jim Folsom, Jr., is also from Cullman County.

In the 1994 governor’s race, Folsom lost a narrow race to Fob James, who was running as a Republican this time. Fob was then defeated by a city governor in 1998. Don Siegelman was born and raised in Mobile. Siegelman lost a very close race to Bob Riley in 2002. Riley won a second term in 2006. Riley is from the small Clay County town of Ashland.

Our current governor, Robert Bentley, practiced medicine most of his adult life in the midsize city of Tuscaloosa. However, he is a small town boy having grown up in Columbiana in Shelby County.

There you have it my friends. If you were keeping count during the past 66 years that is 14 to 2 small town governors over city born governors.

This small town dominance does not end with Alabama governors. A cursory look at the presidents over the past 66 years reveals that if you include in the count those who were elected two times, the count is small town boys, 15, and city boys, 1.

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