The Fire Gone,
Wallace Ends Political Reign
By Bill Peterson
MONTGOMERY, ALA., JAN. 19 One of the most remarkable and controversial careers of the modern political era ended today as a feeble and crippled George C. Wallace ended his fourth and apparently final term as Alabama governor in a ceremony laced with symbolism.
Guy Hunt, first Republican elected governor here in 112 years, was inaugurated on a wood platform located on the spot where Wallace, beginning his first term in 1963, declared, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
But Wallace today was a far different figure than the fiery, bantam-sized demagogue who tried to ride the seething emotions of whites to the White House.
Confined to a wheelchair since being shot in an assassination attempt in Laurel, Md., in 1972, Wallace was pale and weak, able to offer little more than a feeble wave. At 67, the "fighting little judge" is more an object of curiosity than a center of attention.
His only real role in the ceremonies today was to swear in his son, George Jr., as state treasurer.
The day belonged to Hunt, 53, who was given almost no chance of becoming governor seven months ago. A lanky former farmer, probate judge and salesman, he used his inauguration speech to declare a "new day in Alabama" and suggest that his election signaled an end to divisiveness dating to the Civil War.
"Today, we have arrived full circle ... at that long awaited moment in Alabama history when we have finally put to rest the forces that have divided us in this terrible struggle," Hunt said. "After 126 years, we can join our sister states as a true partner in our nation."
Hunt, elected with few black votes, did not directly mention race relations or criticize Wallace's role in perpetuating division.
Instead, he said that Wallace, the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gen. Robert E. Lee "played historic roles in this great conflict" and "have paid a grievous price in this struggle . ... Gov. Wallace, your sacrifice will be forever remembered by all Alabamians."
Wallace, once the staunch segregationist, was leaving office on the day that King's birthday was celebrated nationally.
The Dexter Street Baptist Church, where King launched the modern civil rights movement in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott, is located about 155 yards down Goat Hill from where Hunt spoke. About 50 yards up the hill, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America.
Alabama has had more difficulty than perhaps any other southern state in shaking off an image of racial intolerence. Although his racial views altered dramatically over the years and he won election in 1982 with broad black support, Wallace is still blamed by many for the image.
"Wallace said he was standing up for Alabama; he would make us proud," The Birmingham News said in an editorial Sunday. "Instead, his acrimonious campaign against racial justice and neighborly love brought us shame. His words ignited the basest emotions in our people and stoked fires of hatred."
Wallace, for good or ill, dominated Alabama politics for a quarter-century. The consummate politician, he built his career on campaigning, not governing. Between 1958 and 1982, he ran 10 major campaigns, including one for his first wife, Lurleen, and four for the presidency, a record unmatched in modern American politics.
When Wallace took office, Alabama was at or near bottom in state rankings on social issues such as per-capita income, welfare and school spending. After his four terms, Alabama's ranking had changed little.
The state was 45th in per-student spending in 1963 and 49th in 1985, according to the Census Bureau. Only two states had more food-stamp recipients or higher unemployment rates in 1985, and only three had lower per-capita incomes.
Hunt's biggest challenge will be the state's economy. In his inauguration speech, he pledged "to carry the message throughout our nation, and abroad, that Alabama is ready, willing and able to do what is necessary to achieve a new plateau of economic prosperity."
Hunt also outlined a program to reform education and liability and election laws, including teacher-competency testing, and no tax increases "until we have put over governmental house in order."
Hunt must contend with a state legislature dominated by Democrats. A political unknown, he has spent most of his life in the small town of Holy Pound where he is a minister at a Primitive Baptist Church.
His election, regarded here as an accident, resulted from an uproar caused by a long and bloody legal battle between former state attorney general Charles Graddick and former lieutenant governor Bill Baxley over who won the Democratic nomination. Baxley was eventually certified the winner but lost to Hunt by about 14 percent of the vote.
Hunt has been criticized for appointing only two women and one black to state jobs and for running a pay-as-you go inauguration with tickets to tonight's major ball priced at $250.
"Six months ago, Guy Hunt couldn't have afforded to attend his own inaugural," state Rep. Alvin Holmes (Montgomery) charged.
© Copyright 1987 The Washington Post Company