By Amy Silverman
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By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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"That's gonna be the No. 1 thing on my agenda. As long as we're creating two different types of societies, we're always gonna have problems."
What party is he?
According to Bryant, Republicans have won only three statewide races since Reconstruction, and two of those wins were by disgraced governor Hunt.
"I don't think anyone who runs as a Republican in this state is going to get very far," says Democratic kingmaker Reed.
Barkley says he's an Independent and plans to remain that way.
"I don't think you should have a party affiliation," says Barkley. "This thing where Republicans look out for the rich and Democrats look out for the poor--hey, I don't want to screw anybody. I want to look out for the rich and the poor. I shouldn't have to have a party affiliation.
"One advantage I think I have is, I've been rich and I've been poor. I'm not in there to try to please anybody. I want to try to help everybody."
Is he even registered to vote? Almost surprisingly, the answer is yes, though Barkley isn't sure himself. "Not yet," he said when asked the question by New Times last week.
But according to Nell Hunter, chief voter registrar in Jefferson County, Alabama--one of two counties that split Barkley's hometown of Leeds--Barkley has been a registered voter there since 1981. Hunter says it was a regular practice in those days for voter-registration deputies to visit area high schools to enlist entire classrooms of new voters at a time, "to catch em before they get out of school and get lost." That, she says, is how Barkley likely got registered, in his final high school semester before leaving for Auburn University. Hunter adds, however, that Jefferson County records indicate that Barkley has never actually voted--either in person or by absentee ballot. "One of the reasons I don't vote, I think people vote for the wrong reason," he says. "When the presidential election came up, it would've been better for me to vote for George Bush, but that would be selfish, because he would've taken better care of me. "I don't think people should vote for who's gonna screw them the least. I think you should vote for who's gonna help the most people. "I think, you know, in the long run, that Bill Clinton will help more people than George Bush would've helped, but for me financially it would've been better for George Bush to be there."
But wait. Don't unused registrations expire? "I think my mother and grandmother keep registering me, to be honest with you," says Barkley of his family members who still reside in Leeds. "My mother and grandmother always try to get me to vote."
Who are his likely opponents?
According to the political rail-jockeys, several candidates seem to be lining up to run in 1998. The early contenders for the race include: ù Jim Folsom Jr., the current governor. Should he manage reelection this year, Folsom would be eligible to run for a second full term in 1998.
ù Bart Starr, former University of Alabama quarterback and National Football League star, is "frequently mentioned as a possible candidate" for one office or another, says columnist Bryant. Starr, who briefly resided in the Phoenix area during the 1980s while trying to land an NFL team here, runs a medical development business in Birmingham. ù George Wallace Jr. Currently the Alabama State treasurer, Wallace seems to have the ambition necessary to run for governor, if little of his dad's electability.
Wallace the elder won the Alabama governorship several times--his first wife won it once, when George wasn't eligible to run--and mounted even more campaigns for the White House.
Wallace the younger campaigned unsuccessfully for Congress in 1990 and is running for Alabama lieutenant governor this year. Early polls show him as the favorite in that race. "If he loses, he's gone," says Moody. But if Wallace wins, watch out. As treasurer, Wallace has pushed such populace-pleasing ideas as an early college-tuition investment plan for parents, and aid to farmers.
According to the pundits, Wallace has avoided all race-related controversy and has succeeded in distancing himself from his pop's hate-mongering legacy.
"I don't want to say anything bad about George Wallace Jr. because I don't know him," says Barkley. "But I think it's time for the South to get away from the Wallace-type politics that happened when I was young."
Can a black man be elected governor of Alabama? About 25 percent of the state's population is black, and black representation in the state legislature only slightly lags behind that percentage. Still, the on-the-scene political observers say race would likely be Barkley's biggest hurdle.
"If he were able to convince people he really were serious, there probably are a lot of upper-middle-class Republicans who wouldn't mind voting for a black," says Moody. "But if the question is, 'Are there still people who would vote against somebody just because he's black?'--yes, there still are." Can this black man be elected governor of Alabama?
Consider Barkley's unquestionable name-recognition advantage over any other candidate. (I think he's kind of universally--gee, admired isn't the word," says editorialist Casey. "Universally noted.)