ATLANTA — Guy Hunt made history in 1986 when he was elected Alabama's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
In the waning days of 1992 he made history again. The Primitive Baptist preacher and former Amway salesman became the first governor of the state ever to be indicted while still in office.
Hunt, whose second term has been beset by one scandal after another, was indicted Monday on felony charges of stealing $200,000 in contributions to his inaugural fund. As he denounced the 13-count indictment as a "galling political attack" by Democratic officials and proceeded to try to carry on business as usual, some legislators called for him to resign.
"I think there should be some thought on his part to resigning rather than dragging the state through this," said state Rep. Taylor Harper, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "We have enough problems in this state without being subjected to a long, lengthy show of dirty laundry."
Some lawmakers expressed concern that the legal turmoil would doom Hunt's chances of getting major tax and school reform bills through the Legislature.
But the governor was defiant. "I have never stolen anything in my life," he said. "Make no mistake about it: I intend to be here for the rest of my term doing the things the people of Alabama have elected me twice to do for them."
How effective the governor will be should he remain in office is questionable. Even before the indictment, there were signs that his influence with the Legislature was waning. Hunt, 59, had fallen precipitously in public opinion polls and was becoming a figure of public derision. Alabama officials of the Bush reelection campaign made a point of keeping their distance for fear the governor's taint would rub off.
As questions about his financial dealings mounted, editorialists posed the irreverent question: Is the governor crooked or just plain dumb? Bumper stickers--"Gomer, Goober and Guy," read one--made fun of his humble farm boy background, comparing Hunt to characters from "The Andy Griffith Show."
Hunt, a former county probate judge who never went to college, succeeded George C. Wallace as governor in 1986 largely because the Democratic Party was in disarray. His troubles began in 1991, a year after his reelection to a second four-year term, when the state Ethics Commission ruled that he might have broken the law by using state airplanes to fly to church meetings, where he received "love offerings" for preaching.
Hunt responded that previous governors--Democrats--had enjoyed unquestioned use of state planes, but nevertheless gave the nearly $10,000 he received to the state after questions were raised. Last June, Alabama Atty. Gen. Jimmy Evans, a Democrat, convened a grand jury, and later expanded its investigation to include Hunt's handling of campaign and inaugural funds.
Evans told reporters the day after the indictments were issued that Hunt and three close allies had "systematically looted" the governor's 1987 inaugural fund.
The fund was established during Hunt's first year in office to help meet the costs of his inaugural. It reportedly raised $824,000.
Hunt's aides, denying that he has done anything wrong, say Hunt is the victim of a political conspiracy involving Evans and assorted Democratic and Republican politicians who want Hunt ousted from office.
The conspiracy was hatched in 1991 in a Montgomery pizza restaurant, say Hunt aides, one of whom spotted Evans in the company of several other Hunt political opponents.
"I think he's hallucinating," responded Bill Slaughter, a Birmingham lawyer and former Republican legislator who frequently has been at odds with Hunt and who allegedly was one of the participants in what he derisively calls "the pizzeria conspiracy."
Slaughter admits having dinner with Evans and several others at the restaurant but denies that Hunt was discussed. He also admits that he and the governor have an intense dislike for one another, resulting from a political falling-out that occurred during Hunt's first term.
In his latest radio address to the state, Hunt proclaimed 1992 "a good year for the people of Alabama." But for him personally, it has been a disaster. In January, he called a special session to deal with workers' compensation insurance only to see the bill die.
In September, Hunt admitted accepting $10,000 from a Montgomery businessman that he later appointed to a seat on the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Hunt maintained that the reason he didn't report the money as a campaign contribution was that he considered it a gift. The donor, Don Martin, later was indicted in connection with a $29-million savings and loan fraud.