Book Review: Of Goats and Governors by Steve Flowers

  • Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories
  • by Steve Flowers
  • Publisher – New South Books
  • Copyright 2015
  • 263 pages

Rating – 7/10

Review – From boyhood, Steve Flowers wanted to be a politician. He served as a page in Alabama’s legislature, attended Youth Legislature, and got involved in student politics at the University of Alabama. At age 30, he was elected to the first of four terms in Alabama’s legislature. Since he chose to leave office, Flowers has become a “talking head,” a political commentator on Alabama politics in a variety of media – television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet.

As an avid spectator of Alabama politics, I was excited when I read on Flowers’ website that he was writing a book of Alabama political stories. The book took a while to appear in print, but – after its publication – I immediately asked my wife to buy a copy for me as a birthday gift.

In the Arena – An Inside Look

When Flowers discusses his political experiences, Of Goats is terrific. When Flowers was a boy, he caught the eye of his local representative, Gardner Bassett. Bassett took Flowers under his wing, bringing Flowers to Montgomery so that Flowers could see the legislature up close. Bassett also introduced Flowers to Governor George Wallace, telling Wallace that Flowers would eventually take Bassett’s place in the Alabama House of Representatives. And indeed, when Bassett retired roughly 20 years later, that is precisely what happened.

For political junkies, the “inside” stuff in Of Goats is like catnip to a cat. Another nice section concerns Flowers’ first term as a legislator (1983-1987) when George Wallace was in his last term as governor. Wallace and Flowers were particularly close because they had known each other for 20 years (since Flowers had been a page). Moreover, Flowers represented Wallace’s home county (Barbour), which allowed Flowers to benefit when Wallace sent loads of pork back home.

Flowers recounts how Wallace liked to call legislators into his office and “work on” them. Of Goats describes Wallace as the consummate politician, using his failing hearing to control these meetings by forcing legislators to repeat themselves. Wallace could also flatter; Flowers says that at one point he was eating dinner at the governors mansion more often than he ate at home.

Lesser Knowns

Some of the best stories concern lower-profile figures. One is William “Shorty” Price, a perennial political candidate and rabid University of Alabama football fan. Flowers and Shorty both hailed from Barbour County and both loved politics, so it’s no surprise that they knew each other. In Of Goats, Flowers recounts the time that he ran into Shorty at an Alabama football game –

I was a freshman at the university. Shorty even in his drunken daze recognized me. I had a beautiful date whom I was trying to impress, and meeting Shorty did not impress her. He pranced up the aisle and sat by me. Shorty might not have bathed in two months. His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose. After about 20 minutes offending my date, Shorty then tried to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion Field. He did at least three, mashing his head straight down on the pavement. On each dive, I thought Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely and he was developing a black eye. The alcohol must have saved Shorty that day. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with Alabama cheerleaders, as bloody as he may have been (p. 241).

The “Shorty” section is only 2-3 pages long, and short vignettes are the norm in Of Goats. The short sections make it easy to pick up and put down and keep the book from “bogging down.”

Pulled Punches – Weaknesses

Fans of politics – particularly Alabama politics – will enjoy Of Goats and Governors. But it would be Clinton-esque (or Nixonian, if you prefer) for me to give this book unqualified praise. Unsurprisingly, Of Goats suffers from one of the most-common shortcomings of politicians’ memoirs – there are a lot of pulled punches. Flowers flatters almost all of the politicians whom he discusses, particularly those who are still in office. I came away with the sense that he may have left some of his best stories untold.

A bigger problem is that too much material is “old hat.” For instance, he discusses the Nixon administration’s attempts to defeat George Wallace in the 1970 gubernatorial race. (Nixon hoped Wallace would lose so that Wallace would not be a factor in the 1972 presidential election). This is an oft-told story and Flowers has nothing new to say about it; in fact, most of his coverage is quoted from old books by two other Alabama political figures – Bob Ingram and Oscar Harper.

Some of the other material is little better. For example, in separate sections, Flowers details the political careers and hometowns of Alabama’s recent governors. He provides some analysis, but these sections are dull. Anyone with an Internet connection could have found this information and Flowers adds little beyond the basics.

Final Returns

Flowers doesn’t always seem to recognize that his story is the best tale that he has to tell. A co-author might have helped make Of Goats even better. Still, this is a good, solid book and those who like Alabama politics will enjoy it. I close by noting that I enjoyed reading Of Goats  – which is the highest praise that I can give any book.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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