Folsom considering run for Alabama governor again

Published 10:26 am Monday, November 24, 2008

Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. said he will make a decision early in the new year about whether to run again for governor, an office he held for two years and his father for eight.

Folsom stayed out of politics for 12 years after losing the 1994 race for governor. But he said he is enjoying his return and is getting lots of encouragement to enter the 2010 race to replace Republican Gov. Bob Riley.

“I would think by January or February, I will try to make a decision,” Folsom said in an interview last week with The Associated Press.

Two other prominent Democrats, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, are also considering the race. Folsom calls them friends and says they talk regularly, but they have not discussed the 2010 contest.

One sign of Folsom’s interest is the creation of a political action committee named after the farm-to-market road program that his father, two-term Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom, used to pave rural roads. The new Farm to Market PAC was organized by Montgomery attorney Peck Fox, a longtime Folsom adviser. It raised nearly $40,000 before the election Nov. 4 and had another fundraising reception in Birmingham on Nov. 19 attended by Folsom.

“We plan to support candidates who share a vision for the future with Jim,” Fox said.

Fox said research done so far for a possible campaign is not discouraging. “I’m hopeful his decision will be to run,” he said.

If the 59-year-old runs and wins, he would move back into a Governor’s Mansion where he lived as a child and an adult.

Folsom followed his famous father into politics in 1978, when he was elected to the state Public Service Commission. He won re-election in 1982. At the PSC, he helped approve a rate stabilization plan for Alabama Power that replaced infrequent, but large rates increases with much smaller, more frequent increases.

In 1986, he won a hotly contested race for lieutenant governor and was re-elected in 1990. As lieutenant governor, he worked with the son of another governor, then-State Treasurer George Wallace Jr., to create Alabama’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan.

On April 22, 1993, he moved up to the governor’s office following the ethics conviction of Gov. Guy Hunt. As governor, Folsom recruited Alabama’s first auto assembly plant, Mercedes Benz in Vance, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from losing the 1994 race for governor to Republican Fob James.

It’s been a half century since Folsom’s father served as governor, but he attributes his early success in politics to good will created by his father. “A lot of people still remembered who he was in 1978,” he said.

Folsom said he was particularly helped by his father’s racially moderate views during segregation. “It would have been much different if he had used the race issue for his benefit and for getting elected by demagoguery,” he said.

Folsom is not the flamboyant politician his father was. He has a laid-back personality — he calls it a Type B personality — where he rarely shows any emotion and likes to take his time making decisions.

“That’s just me. I do consider it a mistake to get into a rush over anything,” he said.

Folsom certainly didn’t rush back to politics after losing the 1994 race for governor. For 12 years he pursued his investment business with Raymond James and raised his children in Cullman.

Folsom’s children played a role in his absence. Running for governor is tough business, he said, and children often don’t understand the criticism directed at their parent.

“Sometimes we overlook the fact that children of elected officials are sensitive to these kinds of things. They don’t understand politics,” he said.

Now times are different for him and his wife, Marsha. Their daughter Meghan is an assistant fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar in New York City, and their son, James Folsom III, is a junior at Bard College in upstate New York.

Upon his return to politics in 2006, Folsom began pushing for development of an interstate-style highway running down the west side of the state from around Florence to the Mobile area. He said it would provide a new route for tourists and commerce to reach the Alabama coast and would provide development opportunities in poor areas of west-central Alabama.

Folsom said he hasn’t started developing a platform in anticipation of a possible run for governor, but if he does run, he will keep pushing for the new highway.

That would be much easier as governor because the state Department of Transportation is under the governor’s control.