This month marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Alabama’s first and only female governor, Gov. Lurleen Wallace, the wife of her predecessor and notorious fellow Gov. George Wallace.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler continued his criticisms of the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley, who removed both Wallaces’ portraits from the Capitol rotunda in Montgomery in a move the auditor calls a move to re-write Alabama’s history.
“One year ago, the Bentley administration removed her portrait from the capitol rotunda, where it historically and legally was supposed to remain,” said Zeigler. “One of my regrets in my one year as state auditor is that they declined my two requests — and requests by many citizens — to restore her portrait to its lawful place.”
The portrait issue is one of many where Zeigler and the governor have had disagreements, including taxes, state parks, and other more personal conflicts.
Last month Zeigler accused Bentley of basing his decision to revamp the abandoned gubernatorial residence in Gulf Shores on his personal desire for a new place to stay on the Gulf coast after Bentley lost his own house there in a public divorce with his longtime wife Dianne Bentley.
“It will likely take a new governor in 2018 to right this wrong and stop this historical revision,” remarked Zeigler, who also took Bentley to task for removing items bearing the Confederate flag from the Capitol gift shop. “Sadly, Gov. Lurleen Wallace’s 50th anniversary will pass next year with Bentley still as governor and the Lurleen portrait still banished from the rotunda.”
Zeigler’s interest in the portrait issue aroused the attention of left-leaning anti-racism group Southern Poverty Law Center after he addressed in a speech to the neo-Confederate League of the South.
“It’s quite unfortunate that a public official would lend legitimacy to a hate group by appearing at one of its functions. And believe me, the League of the South is about hate, not heritage,” Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen said.
Zeigler contested that criticism, saying the SPLC doesn’t know a hate group when they see it.
“They were interested in my fight to return the portraits of Governors George and Lurleen Wallace to their legal and historical place in the capital building, and that is a legitimate issue that has nothing to do with hate,” Zeigler recently told reporters.
The administration of Lurleen Wallace was largely seen as an extension of her termed-out husband, who served as her “one dollar a year adviser,” strongly influencing her actions as head of the state’s executive branch.