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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wallace's grip on Alabama politics and its influence on the Republican Party

Though the Republicans in Alabama hated Wallace, in 1974, they decided they could not launch a successful campaign against him. Here, Nettles explains why.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
Why did the Republicans not make a major challenge to Wallace this year?
BERT NETTLES:
Who do we have? One of the Congressmen? Kind of important up in Washington in keeping what toehold we have.
JACK BASS:
Was the reason because there were no candidates?
BERT NETTLES:
No candidates. We have a candidate who's running who is certainly . . . there's been some problems there with him. He just jumped in himself. The idea was not to field any candidate. Concentrate on the legislature. The art of the possible. That's politics. It would take a million dollars and a viable state wide candidate to have a real chance against Wallace. And we don't have a million dollars and we don't have the viable state wide candidate.
JACK BASS:
Wouldn't there have been a potential, though, for building a strong coalition with blacks with an attractive candidate?
BERT NETTLES:
Yes, I think there would have been. But again, we're speaking of hypotheticals there. Because the basic ingredient on a campaign like that . . . and you can go and talk with Ruben Phillips in Mississippi and he tried that. He had a pretty well funded campaign. This was several years ago. He ran for governor on that kind of coalition. And again, there was disappointment. The blacks . . . . Well, look at the blacks! They're endorsing Wallace. They're pragmatists. The Tuskegee mayor. Several others. Evers in Mississippi. You know, they see Wallace as a winner. They want to win. And let the future take care of the future. Winning's the name of the game, you see. This is why Republicans . . . . I'm not arguing your thesis, because I think the man who does get elected governor of Alabama as a Republican . . . . And this will be done, sometime, in the '80s or maybe, hopefully, before then. Is going to be elected with a sizeable amount of black votes. But he's going to have to put together a winning coalition. He's going to have to have a real solid base to run from. Where do you build that base? In the legislature or in Congress. The problem about going to Congress, you get Washington oriented and you have to have a pocket of strength. But then you have the other areas of the state in which you're not well known. But if you could build a solid base in the legislature and get elected to a state wide office . . . . Like Chris Barne did in Missouri. Then you've got a shot at it. But build to have a platform to run on, a name, be able to attract some money. And the problem in attracting money is that the traditional money sources in this state come from your establishment. Your utilities, your big manufacturers, road builders, other groups like that who are not all that interested in seeing a change. And that's the most discouraging thing for the fellow that doesn't have a private fortune for a successful career in state wide politics. If he wants to have a moderate, progressive record or at least a platform to run on.
JACK BASS:
One of the impressions I've sort of gotten here in that Republicans in Alabama are sort of laying back waiting for Wallace . . . sort of dormant, waiting for Wallace to leave the scene in so far as moving state wide. Is that correct?
BERT NETTLES:
Well, we don't have the real dynamic type leadership that we could possibly be doing a lot more with that.