Steve Flowers’ Weekly Column - March 20th
Posted by: wthompson
Date: Mar 20 2014 1:40 PM
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier political journalist and commentator. He is also considered by many to be the preeminent authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history. His March 19, 2014 column is below:
A while back I wrote a column entitled “The State Legislature Is A Good Training Ground For Governor, But Not A Good Stepping Stone To Governor.” The essence of my hypothesis was being one of the 105 members of the House of Representatives or even one of the 35 members of the State Senate does not lend itself to building name identification, which is essential to election to statewide office.
The perfect example in support of this argument occurred several years ago when Covington County State Representative Seth Hammett was Speaker of the House. Seth contemplated a race for governor. The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives is probably the second most powerful position in state government. Seth had served 20 years in the House and had garnered unfathomable knowledge of the machinations of state government. He was immensely popular and universally known in his home district.
One of the first steps when seeking a major statewide office is to conduct what is called a benchmark poll. This poll measures how well you are known statewide. Seth’s name identification was only 3%. If the Speaker of the House has 3% name identification, what do you think a backbencher from Wedowee’s would register? Seth decided against making the race.
The current Speaker, Mike Hubbard, would more than likely have less than 10% name identification and half of his name identification would be attributed to people confusing him with legendary AEA lobbyist Dr. Paul Hubbert.
A similar scenario occurred decades ago when then Senator, now lobbyist John Teague decided that as Pro Tem of the State Senate he should naturally ascend to lieutenant governor. He proceeded with the mandatory benchmark pole. Like Seth, Teague came back with the same single digit result. His pollster candidly told him, “John, it is even worse than you think. Probably over half of your 6% name identification belongs to State School Superintendent Wayne Teague.” John continued on and ran for lieutenant governor anyway but was swamped by Jim Folsom, Jr., who had inherited statewide name identification from his legendary father Big Jim Folsom.
The funniest story of this name identification game occurred several decades ago when my friend Mac McArthur launched into a foray to run for Attorney General of Alabama. Mac has headed the Alabama State Employees Association for close to 20 years. Mac has been around politics all of his life. He grew up in the Wiregrass and was a protégé of Bill Baxley. Mac wanted to follow his mentor, Baxley, and become a trailblazing state prosecutor. Mac had been a district attorney and was currently the head of the State Ethics Commission. In that capacity he had garnered some state press so he figured that would translate into name identification.
Mac proceeded with his initial name identification poll. The legendary political guru, Joe Perkins, had taken Mac on as his client. Joe called Mac to come over and get his results. Perkins, who has managed many of the successful races for statewide offices over the years, knew from past experience that initial name identification for state aspirants could be very low. Perkins met Mac excitedly and said, “Mac, I have some good news for you.” Joe then revealed that Mac had 5% favorable statewide name identification. Mac slowly looked at his counselor and said, “Joe, the only thing I see good about that is that I can run naked through Winn-Dixie and nobody will know who I am.”
The general rule that the legislature is not a good steppingstone to statewide office may be changing in modern times. Our current Governor, Robert Bentley, ascended to the governorship from the legislature. He was the first governor in this century to move directly from the legislature to the Governor’s office.
One reason why this may change in future years is the tremendous amount of money that incumbent state representatives and especially state senators are raising and stockpiling. There are several state senators who have amassed $400,000 to $500,000 war chests. That is a good start towards a statewide race. In addition, a powerful state senator is building an entrenched relationship with special interest groups and lobbyists who are the primary resources for funding a race for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general.
We will see. See you next week.
Steve Flowers’ column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers, with a circulation over 400,000. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SteveFlowersInsideTheStatehouse) and Twitter (@SteveFlowersAL).