Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace was listed in satisfactory condition tonight after being hospitalized today for the third time in less than a month, further fueling the question sparked by his recent health problems: who is running the state of Alabama?
"Nobody really knows," said state legislator Rick Manley. "Announcements are made by his aides, but you don't know if Wallace is making the decisions or not."
Wallace was admitted to University Hospital in Birmingham for tests at 6:30 p.m. (EST), suffering from "recurring leg pain related to his paralysis," hospital spokesman John Wright Jr. said. "He's not in any kind of emergency situation."
Wallace tried to bury doubts about his leadership and and poor health by posing for photographers at the mansion Wednesday with Ohio Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) one hour after his second hospital discharge within three weeks.
To many political observers, Alabama is a ship without a rudder, reeling from one of the nation's highest unemployment rates in the nation, budget crisis and an ailing governor.
Three recent trips to the hospital in less than a month have raised Wallace-watching to near obsession and many officials are puzzled about whom to see to get things done.
"If I needed help for a project in my district, I don't know who to go to in the Wallace administration to get a commitment," state Rep. James Campbell, 40, an Anniston lawyer, said. "I just don't know who's running things."
Wallace, 63, released from the hospital Wednesday, insisted that he has always been in control, even while bedridden, signing bills passed by two special sessions of the legislature, including one that increased monthly unemployment benefits from $90 to $120; working the telephone to check details of a $520 million state bond refinancing, and mulling appointments.
"I talked to people all day on the phone," he said in a telephone interview before his first public foray in a month outside the governor's mansion Friday. "Haven't you ever heard of a governor before being sick? I've just been under the weather for two weeks. But all that's straightened out."
Some visitors and family friends paint a different picture, of a rambling, sometimes incoherent man, who is fatalistic about his prognosis, often in pain, and who virtually has left running state government to his top aides.
"He's holed up, and nobody can get to him," said one supporter who had enjoyed frequent access. "It's hard to get him at the office or the mansion. They guard the door and won't let you see him or talk to him. He's just not an active governor. A lot of legislators have tried and can't. People are beginning to question his ability."
Several embarrassments have fueled speculation about who is in charge. When Wallace called the legislature into its first special session, he forgot to put a vital provision in one bill and had to amend his legislation.
Wallace was put on the spot after Montgomery businessman Robert Lowder said staffers had told him he was to be appointed an Auburn University trustee. Aides then had to tell him that Wallace had not made the decision, but Lowder eventually got the job.
To Wallace's credit, the legislature quickly passed a reapportionment bill, under threat of a federal court order, and the unemployment package. "Does that sound like a governor who is not in control or not getting things done?" asked press secretary Billy Joe Camp, who doubles as chief legislative liaison. "He's batting one thousand."
Camp played down Wallace's hospital admission one night last month and one-week stay for treatment of an inflamed colon. He was hospitalized again March 10 after a reaction to medication and missed his daughter's wedding, Camp said.
What press releases never mentioned was the depression present since a 1972 assassination attempt left Wallace confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the waist down, said Hamilton Hutchinson, his physician for 20 years.
"What he had was an increase in his depression . . . a continuation of what he's had since 1972," Hutchinson said in an interview. "The anti-depressant medication interacted with a belladonna-like product given for his inflamed colon, caused a rise in blood pressure, altered the blood salts and took a few days to correct. He is not at death's door. His mood is better, and he's ready to go to work."
Hutchinson said the problems of governing added to Wallace's depression after he took office again in January. "He found many more problems than he had expected: the economy, the budget, unemployment," Hutchinson said.
Wallace won an unprecedented fourth term by pitching for jobs and reminding voters that he governed with his head, not his legs. Virtually deaf, he wears two hearing aids, and staffers bend close to his ear and shout to be heard. Reporters often give up posing complex questions because he has difficulty understanding them.
Legislators such as state Rep. Joe Carothers complain that "we need a governor who's in the office, not in the hospital." But others say Wallace is more accessible than his predecessor, Fob James, who enjoyed four years of perfect health and worked in the mansion's carriage house.
Wallace, too, spends most of his days working at the mansion. Long ago, he began a tradition of absentee governing when he campaigned four times for the presidency.
"Ever since Wallace first became governor in 1962 , his aides have run the state," said state legislator Alvin Holmes. "It's been going on so long, most people think that's the way the state should be run."