James’ Appointments Troubling

In Alabama, racial tensions are manifest in all political and government activities, social and religious life, public and private educational institutions, the criminal justice system and nearly all economic matters. Given these tensions, it is not surprising that Governor James came under criticism for not appointing blacks to his staff.

There are only two black members on the governor’s staff of 32 appointed positions and one black member of 24 cabinet positions. According to the 1990 census, black folks represented 25 percent of Alabama’s population. Using this census data, critics of the governor’s appointment process say that at least 25 percent of his appointments should be from this population.

State Representative Alvin Holmes, a vocal and perennial critic of Gov. James recently said, “Republicans can’t have it both ways, attacking race-based hiring preferences … and then giving whites most of the jobs.” Holmes is not the only voice critical of the James’ administrations dismal minority appointment record. An Advertiser editorial recently called James’ “slights” of one million black Alabamians unacceptable.

Greg Griffin, chairman of the Republican Council, a state-wide organization of 100 black Republicans, provided a different perspective when questioned about James’ appointment record. He said, “when you shake the apple tree you call your friends.”

Griffin, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994, says that it’s unreasonable to expect the governor to give political appointments to individuals who do not actively support his team. Political appointments, Griffin said, are used to reward those who support your cause.

Responding to the observation that Alabama Republicans are ignoring blacks while attracting more white Democrats to the Republican party, Griffin said, “I am not foolish, there is racism in Alabama.” At the same time, he doesn’t believe Gov. James is a racist. He likens political people working for the same goals to players in the World Series; beyond race. He said “African-Americans need to come on over here and participate in the Republican Party.”

In an interview for this column, Aubrey S. Miller, Director of Tourism and Travel of Alabama, told me that he doesn’t think that Gov. James is racist. Miller, the only black serving in James’ cabinet, said that when Gov. James called him at his home and offered him the position in his cabinet in May 1995, his race was never mentioned. Miller added that after that telephone conservation with James, he got the impression Gov. James either didn’t know or care that he was an African American.

Quentin Riggins and Marilyn Neal are two other African Americans who answered the call to join the Republican Party. Riggins joined Gov. James’ staff as one the four-member legislative liaison office. Neal works in the constituent affairs office.

Riggins, a Montgomery native, graduated from Auburn University where as a football player, he was All American, and 1989 team captain. Riggins denies rumors that he got his position because Gov. James played football for Auburn University as an All American a generation earlier.

Neal graduated from Talladega College and was initially appointed to her position by Republican Gov. Guy Hunt. Democratic Governor Jim Folsom re-appointed her after taking office when Gov. Hunt was forced out after his felony ethic’s conviction. When Gov. James assumed office, he re-appointed Ms. Neal to the position in his administration.

Two positions for blacks out of 32 appointments to Gov. James’ staff is not considered sufficient by many Alabamians, including this writer. Gov. James’ minority-appointment record is the worst of any Alabama governor since the end of legal segregation a generations ago. During segregation, “Jim Crow” law prevented the Governor from appointing non-whites to positions on staff or in the cabinet. Today, Gov. James doesn’t have Jim Crow law to hide behind.

His claim of colorblind appointments is outrageous. All Alabama citizens should be concerned about Gov. James’ benign indifference toward this large sector of our population. If he can only locate and appoint two black men and one black woman to his staff and cabinet, he is too colorblind to hold office in 1997.

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Originally Published: 6 November 1997, Montgomery Advertiser

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