It may appear to you and most casual observers of Alabama politics that our Alabama elected officials are old. That observation is accurate when you observe our current leaders in the highest offices.
The governor’s office has been held by mature folks in recent years. Our current Governor, Kay Ivey, is 78 and has been the object of national media humor for appearing to be a pistol toting great-grandmother. Dr. Robert Bentley, her predecessor, was in his 70s, but he may have been sprier than he appeared. Bob Riley was no spring chicken while governor at age 65, although he looked younger. Our iconic senator, Richard Shelby, retired in January at 88 after a record breaking 36 years in the U.S. Senate. Our new Senior Senator, Tommy Tuberville, is 68.
This was not always the case in the Heart of Dixie. In the period from 1930 through 1970, we elected the youngest political leaders in the nation beginning with our legendary tandem of United States Senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, who served together close to 30 years. Hill was elected to Congress from Montgomery in 1923 at age 29 and was elected to the U.S. Senate at age 44. Sparkman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1946 at 46 after serving as the congressman for the Tennessee Valley.
If you think Hill and Sparkman were young when they went to Washington, you have not seen anything like the governors we elected from 1946 -1966. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom was 38 when he was elected in 1946. John Patterson was 37 when he was elected in 1958. Patterson was referred to as the “Boy Governor.” When George Wallace was elected to his first term in 1962, he was only 43. When his wife Lurleen Wallace was elected in 1966, she was 40. She died in office of cancer less than two years later at 41.
Lurleen Wallace was succeeded by Lt. Governor Albert Brewer, who had been Speaker of the Alabama House at 34, Lt. Governor at 38, and was 39 when he became governor.
Bill Baxley was the youngest attorney general in America when he was elected attorney general of Alabama at 29 years old in 1970. He had been a 25 year old district attorney in Houston and Henry counties. Baxley still practices law in Birmingham at 81.
Well folks, a cursory look at our current top elected officials may appear old. However, we have a generation of young political leaders arriving on the scene in Alabama.
We already have superstars on the horizon and already on the scene who are under 45.
Our new United States Senator, Katie Britt, is only 40 years old. She has the ability and youthfulness to be one of Alabama’s greatest senators. She has gotten to the Senate at a younger age than Hill, Sparkman or Shelby.
Marshall County has become the hot bed and breeding ground for the next generations of Alabama political leaders. This beautiful pristine lake area of North Alabama lays claim to Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth, age 41; State Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, age 42; and State Representative Wes Kitchens who is 35 and is vice chairman of the House Republican Caucus.
Andrew Sorrell, the newly elected state auditor, is only 37. He has a bright future.
The brightest star in the Democratic ranks is Huntsville State Representative Anthony Daniels. At age 40, Daniels is a superstar. He is in his third term in the House from Huntsville. He is the Minority Leader in the House. This gentleman is also a successful high tech businessman in the Rocket City.
There are several other stars under 45 in the Alabama House of Representatives beside Daniels and Kitchens, including Kyle South of Fayette, Matt Simpson of Daphne, Joe Lovvorn of Auburn, Ben Robbins of Sylacauga, Scott Stadthagen of Madison, Corey Harbison of Cullman and very young newcomers James Lomax of Huntsville and Brock Colvin of Albertville.
Joining the affable and accomplished 42 year old Scofield, in the powerful State Senate in the under 45 superstar group are Senators Chris Elliott, 42, of Baldwin; Andrew Jones, 38, of Cherokee; and Josh Carnley from Coffee County who is 44.
Alabama has a host of under 45 political leaders.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column is seen in over 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the legislature and may be reached at: steveflowers.us.
See complete story in the Journal Record.