Flowers talks politics with historical group

Published 10:00 pm Monday, October 27, 2008

Alabama political columnist Steve Flowers held the interest of the Pike County Historical Society from beginning to end at the society’s quarterly meeting on Sunday afternoon.

Flowers spoke to the organization about the political climate past and present and gave his “slant” on all the “goings on.”

Flowers grew up on Orange Street and his best “buddies” were local political giants, Ben Reeves and Gardner Bassett.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“They both realized that I had a passion for politics and they took me under their wings,” Flowers said. “I was their little buddy and they took up a lot of time with me and I learned a lot about politics from them.”

Flowers said Reeves and Bassett were vastly different. Reeves was tough while Bassett was meek. But both were powerful politicians.

“I had a closer relationship with Gardner Bassett,” Flowers said. “I ran a paper route for The Troy Messenger and he would often tell me to hurry up with the route. He wanted me to ride with him to Montgomery.”

Flowers said he learned about political perks at an early age.

“Gardner had a big ol’ Chrysler New Yorker and he would run it about 75 miles per hour up old Highway 231. Back then, it was a two-lane, curvy highway but that didn’t matter to him. He’d be in a hurry to get to Montgomery and, when we’d pass the Highway Patrol officers, they’d just wave at us flying by at 75 miles per hour.”

Flowers was a page for Bassett at the Alabama Legislature and it was through him that he met Gov. George C. Wallace.

“Wallace was remarkable,” he said. “He was a genius when it came to remembering names. He could meet people one time and not see them again for 10 years and still remember their names.”

Years down the road, Flowers had the honor of serving as Wallace’s representative in the Alabama Legislature.

Flowers served in the State Legislature for 16 years and he took Ben Reeves’ advice when seeking election.

“He told me to rein in those folks in Brundidge,” Flowers said. “He said when I was running to camp out in Brundidge because I would be running against somebody from Troy. If I could split those votes, and carry Brundidge I could win because most of the county votes are in the south end of the county.”

Flowers talked about the colorful political characters in the state and singled out Albert Brewer, George Wallace, Jim Folsom and John Patterson as figures of great interest.

The governor’s race between Patterson and Wallace in 1958 was a “classic” as was the run for probate judge in Pike County in 1958 that pitted two families that had dominated county politics for decades.

“The Reeves family had held the sheriff’s office for about a hundred years,” Flowers said. “The Gibson family had held the tax collector’s office since it originated. Ben Reeves and Russell Gibson were running against each other.

In the Democratic primary in May, Gibson beat Reeves but Gibson died and a special election was held to elect the county’s probate judge.

Reeves was in a battle with Pat Boyd, Robert Godwin, Escar Marley and Bassett, who has just been re-elected to a third term as state representative.

Flowers said it was a highly contested race that resulted in a runoff between Reeves and Bassett. Reeves won the runoff and Bassett went back to the state legislature.

“Reeves and Bassett formed a strong bond after that,” Flowers said. “They became a team.”

Flowers said that local race 50 years ago generated intense interest much like the national race for president in 2008.

However, Flowers did say that colorful political characters have always made politics interesting and Pike County and Alabama have had more than their fair share of “local color.”