If Gov. George Wallace follows Alabama tradition, he'll utter only eulogies until Sen. James B. Alen is buried on Tuesday. Then he'll start talking politics, call an election for this fall, and appoint the senator's widow to serve through the summer.
Alen died Thursday night at a Gulf Coast condominium of which he was part owner. He left a legacy of courteous but rigig conservatism and a record of consummate parliamentary skill.
But neither quite matches, in immediate impact at least, the timing of his departure. He died just before the filing period for the election to succeed retiring Sen. John Sparkman and just after Wallace announced he wouldn't run.
About the resulting political melee there is widely varied speculation, including the possibility that Sparkman himself might change his mind to salvage some senatorial seniority for the state.
Wallace's unexpected withdrawal had set off a two-wek round of switching for a number of offices. The major change was the announcement by Rep. Walter Flowers (D) that he would oppose former state chief justice Howell Heflin for Sparkman's seat.
Already two younger state legislators had announced for the Senate seat. The Flowers switch opened the way for others to announce for his.
Allen's heart attack came just as these candidates had sorted themselves out in preparation for the start of the filing period for the primary elections. Presumably the candidate switching will now start all over again. Qualifying opens today and closes July 7. The elections are Sept. 5.
State law provides for the governor to call a special election "forthwith" to fill Allen's seat. Bill Jackson, the governor's legal assistant, noted that this special election might overload the ballot of the September primary and is therefore more likely to be part of the November general election.
The governor may also appoint a senator to serve until the special election. A state nepotism law would preclude Wallace's appointing himself, but Jackson also noted that he could resign with a prearrangement for the lieutenant governor to appoint him.
Observers doubt Wallace would seize the seat by this method, for at least two reasons. He insisted he withdrew from the race because he didn't want to live in Washington, and there's a strong tradition of appointing non-candidates to interim posts.
Allen himself won the seat only when Sen. Lister Hill chose not to run. With this background, observers say Wallace is most likely to appoint the widow, Maryon, to the interim term.
Part of the sorting out that will come in the next few years is indicated already by the tone of some of the eulogies. Despite the unspoken rule here that precludes politics before the funeral, the outlines of some shifts are visible.
Heflin, the former chief justice, said his plans haven't changed. But Flowers, who could avoid the contest with Heflin by switching to a race for the Allen seat, said, "My plans are on the shelf for the moment . . ."
Sparkman, whose retirement announcement last winter precipitated the initial scramble, issued a cautious statement to the effect that this is a difficult time for Alabama, losing all its Senate seniority at once. He wouldn't discuss whether he might get back into the race. But because of his age, 78, and health, it's considered unlikely.