Another Wallace in Alabama
In politics especially, family legacies can create as many burdens as opportunities. Just ask the Kennedys. So it is with George Jr. To critics (who call him Little George) he is simply reaping the benefits of connections forged by his father. Former presidential candidate George Sr., 72, who was left paralyzed from the waist down when shot by a would-be assassin during the 1972 campaign, doggedly works the phones for his son in spite of being bedridden, under the constant care of a nurse and in nearly unremitting pain. One of four state troopers permanently assigned to the nearly deaf ex-Governor listens in on phone calls and writes down the incoming messages. Wallace's mind, says his admiring son, is still "very clear, very sharp."
George Jr., meanwhile, has molded himself into an able politician as well. In addition to his bulldog scowl, he has inherited his father's knack for courting voters with his easy charm. What's more, midway through his second four-year term as state treasurer, he has earned praise as an innovative administrator, making certain that Alabama's revenues are profitably invested. His opponent, veteran government official Faye Baggiano, 49, is given little chance. "Nobody can beat a Wallace in this state," says Ken Mullenax, one of George Jr.'s aides.
The younger Wallace ascribes his popularity among black voters to the fact that they can identify with the tragedies that have befallen his family—not only the crippling injuries suffered by his father but also the 1968 death of his mother, Lurleen, of pancreatic cancer 16 months into her own term as Governor. Also helpful was his father's conversion from bigotry in 1982, amid a final, successful run for Governor. "Of all the public officials who espoused racist views," says Joe Reed, head of the powerful Alabama Democratic Committee, the state's black political machine, "he is the one who worked hardest to redeem himself." George Jr. has retained close ties to Reed's ADC, which has endorsed his candidacy.
When asked about his father's former racism, George Jr. prefers to discuss the state's new spirit of tolerance. Still, growing up as the child of such a well-known—and controversial—figure was seldom easy. Young George insists that his father was attentive and loving but concedes that the Governor's hectic schedule often intruded on family life. "He was always on the go, always busy," says George Jr.
As it happens, the son's own personal life has been far from stable. In his early 20s, in between attending several colleges and dropping out of law school, he briefly tried to make a career as a country-and-western singer. He has been married and quickly divorced three times. His first marriage is still cloaked in secrecy and lasted less than a year. His second marriage, to Kelley Wallace, who bore him two sons, Corey, now 8, and Robby, 7, ended after barely two years. (He still sees his sons regularly.) In June 1990 he married Angela Shoemaker, but that union lasted less than 11 months. Angela, for one, believes that young George's upbringing left lasting scars. "He spent his entire childhood alone," she says. "He was raised by state troopers." As Angela tells it, during their marriage George Jr. was given to frightening fits of anger. "One minute he'd be sweet and loving," she says, "and the next he'd be furious, in a rage, screaming at me, calling me a whore and saying he hated me."
Wallace does not deny ever being abusive toward his ex-wife. But being a conspicuous target seems to be part of his fate. "When you are the son or daughter of someone in public life, you have to work a little bit longer and a little bit harder," he says. "I know. I have worked harder."
RON RIDENHOUR in Montgomery