When Tim James jump-started the nerve endings in every liberal who walks among us this week in his bid to become the next governor of Alabama, it reminded me so much of the way the 47-year-old once played football in high school at The Baylor School. Darned if he’s not every bit as explosive now as he was back in the late ‘70s when he was a boarding student at the famed prep school and starred where “it never rains after 3 o’clock.”
Chances are by now you’ve seen the dilly of a television ad where my old friend Tim, casting his eyes down like some Oscar-winning actor at one point, starts by looking dead into the camera as he says real plain, “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”
The ad, a masterstroke in a heated sprint toward the state’s June 1 primary, proposed the test for an Alabama driver’s license be given only in English instead of the current 13 languages now offered (including Chinese, Thai and Farsi), but if you believe that was the real intent, you ain’t got a true pulse on America or its majority, my friend.
Because of the left-wing media’s knee-jerk outcry, Tim has craftily become something of a sensation and whatever he paid for the ad wasn’t nearly enough for what he got out of it. Look at what has really happened; every major network, newspapers from Spokane to Miami, and the late-night jokers have gone berserk immediately poking fun at Alabama’s “rednecks.”
Hello? Now the state’s voters may well react in just the precise way Tim wants them to on Election Day. That’s Southern politics of the best vintage - I’m talking about distilled just right.
The delicious thing for me, of course, was going back to where it all started. Tim’s daddy, who was named Forrest at birth but who quickly became “Fob” in the way people down in Lanett, Ala., “really” speak English, was a hotshot athlete when he started out in high school.
Somebody got word about Fob to Humpy Heywood, the fabled football coach at Baylor who was of such renown he once had his stars playing at every position in a Georgia Tech backfield. But when Fob got to Chattanooga, he absolutely fell in love with the school, this despite some stern teachers railing over his syrupy Southern accent with an admonition of something like, “This is Baylor; we speak English … if you come here, you’ll learn it.”
Fob, graduating from Baylor in 1952 and going on to be an All-American halfback at Auburn for the revered Shug Jordan, turned out to be much bigger than football. He was a two-term governor of Alabama himself, first as a “born-again Democrat” and the next time as a Republican whose religious faith was so strong he once encouraged teachers to pray with their students in schools.
I’m telling you what I know; I’m not making this up! You know who was governor between Fob’s first and second terms - George C. Wallace, that’s who. It was Wallace’s fourth and final term, but that opens up another story. You see, Alabama political crones are calling this year’s gubernatorial race the hottest since 1958 and that’s really saying something, drawl or not.
It was in 1958, you see, when “Big Jim” Folsom had fallen prey to term limits and the race 52 years ago was heightened by the rare fact neither an incumbent nor a former governor was running.
What happened was the state’s attorney general, John Patterson, was running with the support of the Ku Klux Klan. He won in a runoff over a lesser-known circuit judge named – guess who? - George Wallace, who had been endorsed that year by – guess who? - the NAACP. The loss then triggered Wallace's move as a hard-line segregationist, which you can find more about, rather famously, in some history book.
So, get this - in the next five weeks Alabama voters will pare down a governor’s race for only the second time since the infamous 1958 race where there hasn’t been an incumbent or former governor in the running. Now you see why Tim’s Arizona-like stance is such a dipsy-doodle of a play?
Up until the ad popped, the Republican side of the ballot was reportedly led by a guy named Bradley Byrne, a hardcore GOPer whose blind party loyalty could swing against him. There is also Judge Roy Moore of the “10 Commandments” fame, but Tim’s appeal as “the only businessman in the race,” combined with his “common sense” TV ad this week, makes it look like a runoff after the primary is inevitable.
Incidentally, the leading Democrat contender is a guy named Arthur Davis, an African-American who is 42, been trained at Harvard Law School, and been a member of Congress since 2003. Who does that sound like and, given the current state of the nation, what kind of chances are you going to give that guy against James or Bryne or “The Judge” in Alabama?
One more thing. Fob James’ love for Baylor was so great he sent his own son there as soon as he could. Tim promptly made almost as large a contribution to Baylor as an athlete that his daddy did, but when he went to Auburn and tried to play the landscape had changed considerably since 1952.
To wit, when Fob starred for the Plainsmen there were no black athletes, but when Tim finally turned Toomer’s Corner there were some indeed. Can you say “Bo Jackson?” He was another famous Alabaman and was … er, somewhat better than our boy Tim. Bo won the Heisman, of course.
Oh, c’mon, I don’t mean to sound flippant or haughty. I just get tickled over knowing a little bit more than some other folks might when I see Tim James, a kid I used to watch play football in high school and once even put on my all-state ballot, say on TV, “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”
Mercy me, I just love it so.