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Skip Tucker: A (Mud)room with a View

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News

Today’s column was supposed to be last in a trilogy dedicated to the late Carl Elliott of Jasper and his politics of hope, but there comes a sinister call. Instead, let’s pull on galoshes and head for Alabama’s mudroom.

It might be that my Remembrance of Things Past (with a forlorn hope that politicking would get better), and an occasional snide, sideways current glance allows me, perhaps, a unique perspective on politics of today and the particular sadness of the race for Alabama Attorney General.First: while some consider the AG race an undercard, it isn’t, by a wide stretch. It’s an invitation to The Show – one of the state’s Big Three, along with governor and lieutenant governor. It’s a golden ticket to the chocolate factory. Say “springboard.” Because that’s what it is.

Six of eight previous Alabama attorneys general have elevated. Two became U.S. Senators (one is our U.S. Attorney General), one a Federal judge, one was elected governor and two came within an eyelash of being governor.

Alabama’s AG rises from local politics to state politics and from there, most of them hope, perhaps to national, even to the King of the World, which is the presidency.

So. Big stakes and, for most, a willingness to Do What It Takes, eh.  A peek at a high-level politician’s hole card reveals it to be a joker, almost every time. I’ve been around high-stakes political people for decades, power is the pump, and there is collateral damage. A big-time candidate’s Inside Cadre is well aware of flaws, dire secrets and hidden desires that would sidetrack, if not derail, the train.

Mostly, they brush against the usual – sex, liquor, run-of-the-mill drugs and occasional bouts of wanton rock and roll. How well they hide these, in a bizarre way, might be an indicator of how good they are at doing things. Damage control is an active part of political life and, hence, The Spin, in the singular form of finger-pointing.  Every bad thing is someone else’s fault.

Back, now, to the thread. Career politics, in season, leave short time for home and hearth. I sympathize with folks like Steve Marshall, because I believe I understand him and his impossible situation. The tasks of candidate and caretaker seem mutually exclusive.

When I claimed perhaps a unique perspective, it encompasses decades of high-level politics but also I have seen what addiction to drugs and alcohol can do. It breaks things. It even breaks things that are very strong, because at the end of the day no human condition is stronger than addiction.

Steve Marshall is not to blame for his wife’s suicide, professionals tell me. It is the ultimate personal choice. Clinicians and counselors with years of experience and many significant letters following their names say there is a chemistry present in the brains of many that continually sends out a dark call to end it all.

Addiction, too, can cause chemical and even physical changes to the brain. At first, the drink or the drug helps one feel integrated and in control and on top of things. Then the illness creeps in. It is an illness, make no mistake. Paranoia goes hand-in-hand with drug abuse, fears of being followed. The Fear, in general.

Finally, the obsessed victim’s addiction leaves them helpless, even depraved, and finally they come to Hamlet’s choice. To be or not to be. Too often, the choice is too hard. All that is wanted, midst the wreckage, is surcease from sorrow.

This, from one of those people of many letters:

“Could suicide have been prevented? Maybe. At least delayed. Could she have lived the rest of her life happily? Not without accepting help. Is he responsible for her death? Absolutely not.”

As others have noted, it is a difficult thing to write about such a tragedy. But it became within limits, to my mind, with the news conference and the continued cause, however worthy, part of a campaign. Most telling was the rhetorical question of whether Mrs. Marshall might still be alive if he weren’t the attorney general. A question isn’t a question if you believe you already know the answer.”

The other player on this particular state stage is former AG Troy King, who is known in some circles as King Snake: the old phonusbalonus.

The King Snake itself is so called because it preys on other snakes, even rattlers and moccasins, because it’s immune to their venom, and happily squeezes them to death while they fang him.

Ironically, these vipers are not immune to their own venom and sometimes, struggling with the King, envenom themselves and die from their own bites. Some say Troy King, unlike the snake, has venom and isn’t immune to his own fangs.

It’s thought that while AG, he danced too close to the Creek, and his interest in gambling interests took him to the cleaners. In fact, it’s said that as AG he tried to date all and sundry and fell victim to the truism that if you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything.

That was eight eight years ago. I’d like to think Troy King has grown and recognizes past errors, but there are those troubling reports that he is taking money from slot machine manufacturers, and that lights the night like Vegas neon.

So now former AG King finds himself trying to play catch-up from inside a box.

In Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the beleaguered sheriff says (and I’ve cleaned this up), “I feel like a country dog in the city. If I stand still they gonna screw me, if I try to run they gonna bite my ass.”


(Where have you gone, Congressman Elliott. A lonely landscape turns its eyes to you. Next week: An honest man regains the field.)

Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at

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