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  • November 11th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

In 1959 my wife, Marty and I fled the land of grits and hominy for Missouri, a move that couldn’t have come too soon. Now the rest of the world has gotten a graphic reminder of all that motivated our move.
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate and putative shoo-in for United States Senator from Alabama, has gotten caught with his hand in the panties of a 14-year-old girl, a transgression that, even in Alabama, with a reputation for some of the most disreputable politicians in the history of the country, might be enough to deny him a seat in the Senate.
Moore, already a discredited judge, still had enough credits with the credulous voters of Alabama, who were willing to ignore every one of his outrageous statements over the years, but who may not be able to ignore this over-the-top indiscretion.
Although, given that Alabama voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the country, a man who brags about his ability to fondle women’s underwear, anything is possible. Alabama has a long and inglorious history of electing politicians who, in a just society, would be serving prison terms. But then you have to remember that Alabama is a state where formal dress often is considered a white sheet, and a weenie roast historically often featured a black person as the main course.
The Republican primary was a typically bizarre Alabama political Keystone Kop melodrama. Moore ran against Luther Strange who had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Sessions who had been appointed the nation’s attorney general, the top cop on the federal level. Sessions, of course, is at the heart of the investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election which saw Donald Trump unaccountably become president.
Strange was the Attorney General of Alabama, who was investigating the governor, who was involved in a scandal of his own. Governor Robert Bentley was accused of having an overly cozy relationship with one of his aides, some of which was recorded and the salacious tape was played widely to the amusement of everybody not involved. So what happens? The governor appoints Strange to fill the empty seat of Jeff Sessions— rewarding (and derailing) the very fellow who was investigating him for sexual misconduct. Bentley resigned ahead of being impeached.
So you have the governor of the state hanky-pankying around with an aide, suspected of cutting a deal with his attorney general, the fellow who was investigating him, who in turn was defeated in a primary battle with a discredited judge, who now has been implicated in his own sexual scandal.
Alabama politics as weird as it almost always is, can’t get much more convoluted than that and, if you happen to live almost anywhere else, laughable. One of the former governor’s spokespersons, Angi Stalnaker, summed up Alabama politics thusly “all of our corruption up until now had been our own private family embarrassment.”
I started working for the Alabama Journal, a newspaper of not much renown, in 1956, the tail end of the political reign of perhaps the most colorful politician Alabama has spawned—and that’s saying a lot. Big Jim Folsom, 6 foot eight and 250 pounds, was coming to the end of his term as governor, ultimately brought down by a combination of outrageous behavior, not the least of which was appearing drunk on television.
He was called Big Jim, for obvious reasons, but also Kissin’ Jim for his habit of planting one on every pretty girl he met. I heard that once he tried that with a University of Alabama cheerleader and she responded by slapping the snot out of him. He bragged about his amatory overtures, but said that he confined his smooching to women 16 and up, unlike the present Republican senatorial candidate who apparently has no lower age limit. “It was sort of like baby kissing” Folsom said, “Only I started with the 16-year-old ones and worked up from there.”
Folsom was, as were all most all southern politicians of the day, a Democrat. It was only in the 1960s and later that the xenophobic Democratic party switched identities with the Republicans and today’s Republican is similar if not identical to the Democrat of the 1950s and 1960s.
Stories about Kissin’Jim were legendary in the Journal newsroom. He would show up drunk at a news conference and the reporters would enjoy his bawdy repartee with them. One possibly apocryphal story was that when he was barnstorming through southern Alabama some redneck shouted out, “Jim, they say you been stealing up there in Montgomery.” To which Folsom replied, “shore I stole. You want all them sons of bitches up there to get all the money?” And the crowd cheered.
The Folsom era ended with a typically knotted Alabama political Gordian knot. His successor was George Wallace whose second wife was Folsom’s niece. And Folsom had a well-publicized affair with the 18-year-old daughter of Earl Warren, later to be the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, and a noted liberal who spearheaded the decision by the court to end segregated schools in the South. Wallace famously would go on to stand in the door of the University of Alabama to deny Autherine Lucy, an African-American, access to the then all white University.
To give Folsom his due, he vowed to uphold the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation order because as he said it was the law of the land and he would obey the law of the land. I worked with a fellow who had been a school principal in a rural Alabama school and who said the same thing—that if it was the law he would obey it and desegregate the school. He was fired by the school board.
I think that it may have been the morning before we left Alabama for good. Marty and I went out for breakfast. And I decided to try grits with my eggs and bacon. I discovered that, along with hominy, grits constituted the epitome of Alabama cuisine and it was time to hit the road. If Alabama politics had not curdled my soul, a diet of grits and hominy was sure to.
We headed back to Missouri which, in those days, was scarcely more advanced in civil rights than Alabama, but at least we didn’t endorse the Klan, white citizen’s councils, and other examples of Southern social clubs. We stuck with the Kiwanis Lions and other more traditional and acceptable guy gatherings of white middle-class males.
Still to come in the Southland I happily left behind were the murders of civil rights workers, the bludgeoning of marchers seeking equal rights, the loosing of police dogs and fire hoses on yet more protesters of school integration by such stalwarts of bigotry as George Wallace and Orville Faubus.
Still to come also was Roy Moore, the latest incarnation of bizarre Alabama politicians. His explanation for his behavior and the interpretations of his supporters are like dialogue from the most fervid imaginings of Lewis Carroll. Alice would have fled in horror— bad enough to be harangued by giant rabbits and deranged hat makers, but attempted diddling by Roy Moore is beyond Wonderland and well into the territory of Hell.
Moore was appointed as a judge by then Alabama governor Guy Hunt who would be convicted of theft for converting $200,000 campaign contributions so he could build a marble shower and buy a lawnmower. Hunt resigned in disgrace in 1993. Moore twice was kicked out of the judiciary, once for defying a court order to remove a plaque containing the 10 Commandments from his court room, the second time for willfully and publicly defying the orders of a United States District Court. In 2016 Moore was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission which found him guilty of six ethics charges, stemming from his defiance of previous court orders.
Since then Moore has been active railing against same-sex marriage, homosexuality, Islam, and anything he doesn’t like. Moore did explain that he probably did date younger women when he was in his 30s but never, he stoutly maintained, without having gotten the consent of the girls’ mothers, an explanation that raises eyebrows high enough to cause vision problems. Can you imagine the parents of a 14-year-old giving consent to their daughter dating a 32-year-old man? Daddy would be busy searching for shotgun shells while mom would be busy dialing 911.
If you have seen the news stories about Roy Moore and it is difficult not to have, you doubtless have seen him riding a horse. Other than the fact that it’s difficult to separate him from the back end of the horse I am invariably inspired to comment to the television set with a suggestion that other than committing illegal shenanigans with underage girls he should also consort with, as the phrase ends, ” the horse you rode in on.”

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