Bent­ley places cloud over ap­pointee’s head

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

In Alabama pol­i­tics many times ap­point­ments to po­lit­i­cal of­fices filled by an act­ing gover­nor have an ad­verse ef­fect on that ap­pointee if and when they seek elec­tion to that of­fice for a full term. Ev­ery time Ge­orge Wallace ap­pointed some­one to a po­lit­i­cal post, even in the prime of his pop­u­lar­ity and power, they in­vari­ably lost in the next elec­tion.

Well folks, ole Dr. Bent­ley ain’t Ge­orge Wallace and his ap­point­ment of Luther Strange to the Se­nate seat va­cated by Jeff Ses­sions may come back to haunt Big Luther. His ap­point­ment is even more prob­lem­atic due to the ap­pear­ance of col­lu­sion sur­round­ing the ap­point­ment. The taint of the Bent­ley ap­point­ment hov­ers over Big Luther’s tall head in Wash­ing­ton.

Lyn­don John­son had a sim­i­lar cloud over his head when he ar­rived in the U.S. Se­nate in 1948. It was known that he had stolen the Texas Se­nate seat when he ar­rived. When that U.S. Se­nate seat came open, he made the de­ci­sion to roll the dice and go for broke. Lyn­don did not know that the leg­endary gover­nor, Coke Stevenson, would en­ter the race

Coke Stevenson was a leg­endary Texas icon. He was the epit­ome of a Texas gentle­man and revered. He was Texas’ Ho­ra­tio Al­ger and Davy Crock­ett com­bined. He raised him­self from age 12, built a ranch­ing em­pire, was Speaker of the Texas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and a very pop­u­lar Gover­nor of Texas. Stevenson was above re­proach. He would not lie, steal or cheat and Tex­ans knew that about old Coke.

On the other hand, Lyn­don John­son had al­ready earned the rep­u­ta­tion in Texas that he would con­tinue to earn in Wash­ing­ton — he would do what­ever it took to win. He was to­tally cor­rupt and ruth­less with­out any sem­blance of a con­science.

John­son ap­plied mod­ern day pol­i­tics to that era. He in­tro­duced polling and what it meant in de­tail. He even used a he­li­copter to fly from town-to-town and land on court squares to speak and shake hands, but mostly he used neg­a­tive and false cam­paign mail­ings to at- tempt to de­stroy Stevenson’s stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion.

Stevenson was from a dif­fer­ent era. He re­fused to go neg­a­tive and would not re­ply to any neg­a­tive ac­cu­sa­tions no mat­ter how ma­li­ciously false.

John­son was able to uti­lize this mas­sive me­dia blitz be­cause he had more cam­paign funds than any can­di­date in Texas his­tory. He had un­lim­ited fi­nan­cial back­ing from the gi­ant Brown and Root Com­pany of Texas, which is now Hal­libur­ton Corp. They were then, as they are now, the re­cip­i­ents of gi­gan­tic gov­ern­ment con­struc­tion con­tracts. John­son was their boy and would do their bid­ding as their se­na­tor so they poured money into the race like wa­ter.

John­son out­spent Stevenson 10-1, but it was not enough. When the votes were counted on elec­tion night, Stevenson had won by a nar­row mar­gin. How­ever, the elec­tion was not over; Stevenson was about to be counted out.

The Rio Grande Val­ley along the Texas and Mex­i­can bor­der was known as the re­gion where votes could be bought. Most close elec­tions were de­cided in th­ese coun­ties, which would come in days after the orig­i­nal count with just the right num­ber of votes needed to win the elec­tion. This is how John­son won by only 87 votes in a race where over one mil­lion votes were cast.

John­son be­came known as “Land­slide Lyn­don” in Wash­ing­ton be­cause of this 87-vote vic­tory. It was also an al­lu­sion to how he had stolen the seat. Some peo­ple think that the nick­name “Land­slide Lyn­don” stems from John­son’s land­slide vic­tory over Barry Gold­wa­ter in the 1964 pres­i­den­tial race, but it was ac­tu­ally from the 1948 Texas Se­nate race.

A leg­endary tale that is at­trib­uted to John­son in this in­fa­mous race claims that in the days fol­low­ing the elec­tion, while gar­ner­ing enough votes for vic­tory, John­son and the po­lit­i­cal bosses of the Val­ley coun­ties were go­ing through ceme­ter­ies and tak­ing names of dead Mex­i­cans off the tomb­stones to reg­is­ter vot­ers. They could not de­ci­pher one of the names and asked Lyn­don what to do, John­son quickly replied, “Give him a name, he’s got as much right to vote as the rest of them in this ceme­tery.”

Steve Flow­ers is Alabama’s lead­ing po­lit­i­cal columnist. His weekly col­umn ap­pears in over 60 Alabama news­pa­pers. He served 16 years in the state leg­is­la­ture. Steve may be reached at www.steve­flow­ers. us.

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