George Wallace - First Gentleman of Alabama

First Gentleman of Alabama

Term limits in the Alabama Constitution prevented Wallace from seeking a second term in 1966. Therefore, Wallace offered his wife, Lurleen Burns Wallace, as a surrogate candidate for governor. She defeated in the Democratic primary two former governors, James E. Folsom and John Patterson, Attorney General Richmond Flowers, Sr., and former U.S. Representative Carl Elliott. Largely through the work of Wallace's supporters, the Alabama restriction on gubernatorial succession was later repealed.

Wallace defended his wife's proxy candidacy. He felt somewhat vindicated when Republicans in Idaho denied renomination in 1966 to Governor Robert E. Smylie, author of the article entitled "Why I Feel Sorry for Lurleen Wallace." In his memoirs, Wallace recounts his wife's ability to "charm crowds" and cast off invective: "I was immensely proud of her, and it didn't hurt a bit to take a back seat to her in vote-getting ability." Wallace rebuffed critics who claimed that he had "dragooned" his wife into the race. "She loved every minute of being governor the same way ... that Mrs. Smith (Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith) loves being senator."

During the 1966 campaign, George Wallace signed state legislation to nullify desegregation guidelines between Alabama cities and counties and the former United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Wallace claimed that the law would thwart the national government from intervening in schools. Critics denounced Wallace's "political trickery" and expressed alarm at the potential forfeiture of federal funds. Republican gubernatorial candidate James D. Martin accused the Democrats of "playing politics with your children" and "neglecting academic excellence."

James Martin also opposed the desegregation guidelines and had sponsored a U.S. House amendment to forbid the placement of students and teachers on the basis of racial quotas. He predicted that Wallace's legislation would propel the issuance of a court order compelling immediate and total desegregaton in all public schools. Martin compared the new Alabama law to "another two-and-a-half minute stand in the schoolhouse door.

Lurleen Wallace overwhelmed Jim Martin in the general election on November 8, 1966. She was inaugurated in January 1967, but on May 7, 1968, she died in office of cancer at the age of forty-one, amid her husband's ongoing second presidential campaign. On her death, she was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer, who had run without Republican opposition in the Wallace-Martin race. George Wallace's influence in state government hence subsided until his next bid for election in his own right in 1970. He was "first gentleman" for less than a year and a half.

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