Since I hit the ripe old age of 21 in 1964, Alabama has had 10 governors. George Wallace, Lurleen Wallace, Albert Brewer, Fob James, Guy Hunt, Jim Folsom, Jr., Don Siegelman, Bob Riley, Robert Bentley and now Kay Ivey.
Of those who have completed their time in office, Decatur’s Albert Brewer was clearly the cream of the crop, even though he served just less than three years, moving from lt. governor to governor in May 1968 when Lurleen Wallace died in office.
(He ran for governor in 1970 against George Wallace. Brewer lead the Democratic primary, but Wallace unleashed the hounds of hell on him in the runoff and won 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent.)
Brewer was a moderate, especially when it came to race relations. He was a rising star, being elected to the House of Representatives at age 26 and lt. governor at 38. He was progressive, intelligent and, above all, decent. I immediately think of Atticus Finch when I think of Brewer.
He was also totally committed to public education, even at this very tumultuous time when Alabama was wrestling with desegregation. The state created an Education Study Commission in 1967. Lurleen Wallace picked Auburn University President Harry Philpott to chair this effort. When Brewer became governor he made the work of this commission one of his priorities.
The final report was released early in 1969 and Brewer called a special session of the legislature for April, just prior to their regular session. There were actually three task force groups that looked at “Role & Scope,” “Financing” and “Administrative.” These were combined into a final report.
At that time, state board members were appointed by the governor and the state superintendent was elected. The Administrative task force devoted considerable discussion to this process, frequently talking about “fragmentation” and “accountability.” They felt the appointed board was not accountable to the public and that the superintendent was not accountable to the board.
This report says, “This commission, however, supports the position taken by virtually all professional education organizations in the state that have already emphasized that the only true solution to continuity in education leadership is an appointed superintendent by an elected state board of education.”
“There is general agreement among those who study the field that it would be most desirable and most consistent with the American philosophy to have boards of education elected by the people for staggered terms of office.”
Consequently, the final report of this task force recommended that the constitution be changed so that the state board was elected and the superintendent appointed.
However, the final report of the entire task force said, “The commission recommends appointment of the state board of education and that necessary legislation be enacted to establish the following procedure for the selection of the member of the state board of education.”
It then went on to recommend that a screening committee made up of the president of the state senior college association, president of the state junior college association, present of the state school board, chief justice of the supreme court, speaker of the house, lt. governor, president of the Alabama Education Association and president of the Alabama State Teachers Association would recommend three people to the governor for each slot on the state board. The governor would select one of these three.
However, in his message to the special session, Brewer, who had a 70 percent approval rating at the time, said, “We propose legislation to provide for the election of the state board of education and appointment of the state superintendent.”
Legislation passed during the special session put this process in place. This constitutional amendment was approved on Dec. 9, 1969 by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent. While only 28 counties voted in favor, it passed overwhelmingly in Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and Montgomery counties by a 63-37 margin.
And if Albert Brewer were still alive and voting on March 3, there is no doubt he would vote NO.
Editor’s note: There was also an education task force in 1959. It also recommended that we have an elected state board, rather than an appointed one.