BY GREG MARKLEY
In 1955, Fob James was a Lanett native playing college football under Auburn’s legendary coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. He would sometimes fumble the ball, so he was nicknamed “Fumbling Fob.” Yet that year, James was named All-American as a halfback. During 1956, he played professional football in Canada with the Montreal Alouettes. It was evident that James was underestimated.
As a Democratic governor of Alabama (1979-1983) and as a Republican governor (1995-1999), James’ handling of monetary and fiscal policies was better than most people realize. Mark Thornton, senior fellow at the Mises Institute in Auburn, was an economics advisor to James in his second term.
“Gov. James was a budget hawk as both a Democrat and later as a Republican,” said Thornton, a prominent libertarian. “He was frustrated with all the automatic increased spending built into government by special interest groups — things beyond his control.
“He was the best steward of taxpayer money in recent history. When he left office political com-mentators on Alabama Public Television were virtually speechless when asked the last time a governor left office with large surpluses in all three major budgets,” Thornton said.
He said another politician who, like James, has not gotten his due for properly handling government funds and budgets is former President Carter.
“The current federal government and politicians make anyone in the past look responsible and adult-like. Also, they were dealing with an economic depression, high inflation, and high unemployment — they had to do some responsible things.”
Thornton pointed out: “He wanted to reverse some of the horrors the government was imposing with the war on drugs. He also started to privatize public utilities, like air travel, pipelines and phones, which still brings the American people enormous benefits.”
In the midst of this discussion of James and Carter as good overseers of the people’s money, I read that Frank Borman, the commander of NASA’s amazing 1968 Apollo 8 spaceflight, died at age 95. I explain the relevance of Borman below. First, I will explain to those who haven’t heard of him, his major role in the American space program.
On Christmas Eve 1968, on their fourth orbit, the Apollo 8 astronauts saw Earth rising above the lunar horizon from a distance of more than 230,000 miles. It was a relatively small but simmering blue and white body in the dark. It being Christmas Eve, commander Borman wanted to make the first Apollo flight to the moon memorable. So out came the Bibles.
Astronauts took turns reading from the Book of Genesis, telling of Earth’s creation. Borman concluded the telecast with the words: “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” That flight, along with the first man on the moon one in 1969, these are the two most noteworthy flights that were not related to accidents or a fatal crash.
I remember the name Frank Borman, oddly enough, from 1985, when I was living in an apartment near Hartsfield International Airport. Upon his NASA retirement in 1976, Borman be-came chairman of Eastern Airlines. The company was close to bankruptcy, but Borman felt he could turn it around.
He persuaded airline unions to accept a wage freeze along with getting a new profit-sharing plan. He also made huge cuts in management. Borman laid off 1,000 flight attendants and reduced the pay of 6,000 others by some 20%. He severely cut executive pay and middle manager salaries by 20 to 25%.
At my College Park apartment complex, a lot of tenants worked at Eastern Airlines and boy, did they dislike Frank Borman. One day a fellow renter downstairs yelled so hard that I heard the name “Borman” clearly. Other airline people, at parties, wandered around saying “Borman, Borman, Borman!”
I felt for these employees who would either lose their jobs or have their salaries diminished. Yet I understood the challenges business leaders had and was sympathetic to Borman and other CEOs, hoping things would improve. Then Charlie Bryan, head of the International Association of Ma-chinists and Aerospace Workers said the union would accept a deal only if Borman resigned. In June 1986, Borman resigned from Eastern.
Borman had a long, fruitful life and died an American hero. Jimmy Carter’s extraordinary life is being celebrated as his journey nears the end. And Fob James, 89, is retired in Florida. His stewardship of Alabama in two terms is becoming better known, thanks to libertarian economists who study government budgets.
Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Ala-bama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education, and books.