Tuesday, March 29, 2005

End of a political era

Two landmark figures in Alabama politics have died in the last two days. Former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., died today in Sheffield at age 83. His death came just a day after that of former U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Jasper, 84, who represented his northern Alabama district for 30 years before retiring in 1995.

Bevill and Heflin were giants of a bygone age when the Democratic Party dominated Alabama politics. Their personal popularity enabled them to stay in office long after Republican presidential candidates started taking Alabama's electoral votes for granted.

Bevill's legacy can be found across the state in a slew of buildings and community colleges that bear his name and in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a huge public works project that, sadly, promised much more than it could deliver. Heflin, meanwhile, likely will be best remembered for the much-needed reform of Alabama's judicial system that he spearheaded as the state's chief justice in the 1970s and for his service on the Senate committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair and the Keating Five savings and loan scandal.

Whatever their political failings, Bevill and Heflin both worked to make Alabama a better place, and I commend them for their work. My condolences go to their families.

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