Former Alabama Governor Guy Hunt was laid to rest yesterday, and many people remembered his country manner and simple virtues.
Others took a less charitable view of Alabama's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, noting that he was removed from office in 1992 for a felony ethics conviction.
In a splendid analysis at Osborne Ink, Alabama blogger Matt Osborne provides valuable insights into Hunt's rise and fall--and the deep red state he left behind. Hunt died last week, at age 75, from lung cancer.
Osborne's post, titled "The Strange Story of Guy Hunt," spotlights the critical role Hunt played in turning Alabama into a reliably red state. In fact, one could argue that Hunt played a "John the Baptist" role for the Republican Party in Alabama, paving the way for a much larger figure to come.
In John the Baptist's case, the larger figure was Jesus Christ. In Hunt's case, it was Karl Rove, who arrived on the scene in 1994 to start reshaping Alabama state courts into a Republican playground.
(I can't believe I just found a way to compare Karl Rove to Jesus Christ. Something just doesn't seem right about that.)
Many Alabamians recall Hunt as a simpleton who stumbled into the governor's office because of infighting between Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick in the Democratic Party. But Osborne says that might be selling Hunt short. The one-time farmer from Holly Pond knew how to take advantage of a situation:
It wasn't that Hunt was a particularly attractive candidate; in today's terminology, Hunt was a paleo-Republican -- an anti-science, Bible-thumping member of the Council of Conservative Citizens. (Get it? CCC=KKK). He also had a history of self-dealing: Reagan had appointed him to a seat on a Department of Agriculture agency, and by 1985 he had been forced to resign or face prosecution for mismanagement of funds.
Indeed, his presence would never have been tolerated on a dominant-party ticket, but none of this made a dent in his sudden popularity. Alabama knew nothing about him, and didn't really want to know. His coalition was substantial, and he led it with crafted charisma. As a traveling Primitive Baptist preacher, Hunt appealed to the evangelical movement. As a member of the CCC, he appealed to white racists. As a Reaganite, he appealed to Reagan Democrats. A hobby farmer, Hunt had the aw-shucks demeanor of a good-old-boy grafted onto the slick salesmanship of an Amway salesman, which he was.
Hunt never seemed like "the sharpest knife in the drawer." But he didn't care. And in the end, he had a profound, if negative, impact on his home state:
Hunt's true legacy is in the Republican takeover of the south. It is in the redness of this region amidst a sea of blue last November. It is the defection of rural, white racists to the Republican party while declaring that the Democrats left them, and not the other way around. It is the know-nothing popularity of Sarah Palin, the Rovian secrecy of Bush, and the deliberate creation of a false "legacy." Hunt's story is Republicanism in miniature.
Hunt's story also represents some serious personal growth for your humble blogger. I can vividly recall standing in line in 1990, preparing to vote for Guy Hunt. In fact, I was so fed up with the Baxley-Graddick sideshow that I told Mrs. Schnauzer as we waited in line, "I don't think I'll ever vote for another Democrat."
(Memo to self: Be careful what you say. It might come back to remind you of how stupid you once were.)
Not long after that, I found Kevin Phillips' The Politics of Rich and Poor at the Birmingham Public Library, and after reading it, realized what an idiot I had been for voting Republican through much of the 1980s.
It pains me now to admit that I voted for Guy Hunt, not to mention Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush (although, having finally wised up, I voted for Bill Clinton when Bush ran for re-election in 1992).
It has been rewarding to move from a state of personal political ignorance to something approaching semi-enlightenment. I just wish more Alabamians would at least try to make similar journeys.
Sadly, a lot of folks who voted for Guy Hunt have been content to keep their minds set in concrete ever since. And our state is the poorer for it.