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Skip Tucker: Regarding the Pothole

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News

Todd Stacy and Alabama Daily News, while setting a new pace for state news media (and whaling the tar out of pretenders), hasgiven me and some talented young pros the opportunity to help in the worthy endeavor.

One of the things I do is to use politics from Back in the Day to reflect on current usage. They are much the same at their bases, sort of like gunpowder.

Once gunpowder was discovered, its simple value of destruction became a function of how much of it could be packed into a cartridge.

Building roads is and will remain a function of politics.

I stepped boldly into journalism by covering the Walker County Commission for the Mountain Eagle, way long time ago. It was a quick lesson. Remind me to tell you of the day the District 2 commissioner slugged the chairman, who, like any redblooded Walker countian, went for the knife in his pocket.

Or when the mayor of Cordova calmly, politely and formally recessed the city council meeting so he and a councilman could step into his office and shoot it out. I kid you not.

The Walker County Commissioners ran on and were elected as “road commissioners.” Building roads was their main function.

Then, as now, politics were played. There wasn’t much money and the astute gentlemen used it wisely. They would hoard their share of revenue, weather the outcries by people whose roads were near impassable, and a month before election they’d pave every road in their respective districts. And it worked every time, every election cycle.

One man came into the regular Monday morning meeting carrying his bumper. He’d hit a pothole so hard it had dropped off his car. All had a good laugh.

But the gem came from a man from Beat 10. When it was his turn to speak, he said he was there to beg relief from a pothole in front of his house. Knowing smiles from the commissioners.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “Yesterday I was maneuvering around that huge hole and I saw what looked to be a brand new white stetson hat. I stopped and went to get it. When I picked it up, there was a man under it. And he was on a horse.”

Walker County was full of coal and so were coal trucks. They were everywhere, roaring hither and yon. Anyone who drove fifty miles a week would be replacing the windshield every three months or so.

Those who lived on backroads would be replacing tires or rims or springs and getting the wheels aligned and balanced just as often.

Automotive dealerships purely loved the coal mine.

The Drummond Co. owned the coal and its president, Garry Drummond, owned the commission and the county legislative delegation and just about anything else he wanted. Except the newspaper. Garry even tried to buy it once so “he’d have the pleasure of firing Skip Tucker, right to his face.”

Still, Garry Neal Drummond was an honest and honorable man, almost all of him. I had great respect for him. All the Drummond boys were honest and honorable.

They genuinely cared about their county and gave and gave. No worthy charity knocked at the door and left empty.

The Drummond Co. put bread on the table for many, with a broad definition of bread. And each of the four Drummond brothers worked their butts off.

One thing Garry didn’t like, and didn’t like more than he didn’t like anything else, was the coal severance tax for the county for which the Eagle led the cause.

Garry, who was doing land reclamation even before the Feds made it a law, couldn’t abide the notion.

When the Eagle convinced the county delegation to impose one, it was thought a done deal. It would be local legislation which, then as now, would be passed automatically if all the county members agreed to it. Which they had. Passing local legislation is a professional courtesy.

Except the coal severance tax proposal kept failing, and no one would say why.

About the third time it failed, Eagle publisher Shelton Prince and I headed for Montgomery and the State House.

Now there was an eye opener.

The place was an uproar. The Jeff Davis High School band was playing Dixie over and again, with spirit. There was an aroma of other spirits. One representative was quite soundly asleep.

We found our delegation, one by one. It wasn’t easy. None seemed to know why the coal tax bill failed and failed.

Then up stepped an honest man, Sen. Bo Torbert, who became chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“I’ll show you why it fails,” he said, and he pointed to Sen. Robert W. “Lyin’ Bob” Wilson.

The good senator, powerful as Planters’ Punch, was a Wallace cronie and power broker. He was was nestled snugly inside the thrice-woven suit pocket the Drummond Co.

The honest senator, right before our eyes, made another impassioned plea for his comrades to pass the coal tax. We learned he would then retreat to whichever committee held the bill and threaten hellish retribution if it allowed the bill onto the floor.

Garry was in town and that night, at the E-lite Cafe, the deal went down. More bills were passed and killed in the E-lite than in Washington, DC and that night, Prince and Garry Neal agreed on a deal. Garry did something extraordinary.

He said if Walker County passed a coal severance tax all the counties in which Drummond dug coal would follow suit. He said if it was agreed to reduce the amount of the tax a bit, he agree to putting it in place in each county.

Next day it flew into law.

That night at the E-lite, after Garry and Shelton had more drinks than a few, Prince said, “Garry Neal, you know this is a pure thing. Your coal trucks are what is tearing up our roads.”

“ ‘s a lie,” said Garry, with a wicked, sly smile.

“It’s those damn school buses.”

One day I’ll devote a writing to the Drummonds. Theirs is indeed a remarkable story, and a good one.

Those who come to oppose this year’s gas tax push might include businesses that feel they are negatively impacted by a gas tax increase, though it would be slight impact.

It’s their right to speak up.

Let’s hope they show the ultimate common sense displayed by Garry Neal Drummond and seek common ground for the common good.

(Next week: Trumps, Trump-ettes and Strump-ettes.)

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