By Steve Flowers, Guest Columnist
In Alabama political history, the office of Probate Judge was the most powerful and prestigious position. In the old days, in every county in Alabama, the probate judge was not only judge, he also appointed all county positions, hired all county employees, and was Chairman of the County Commission. He was essentially the “King of the County.”
In bygone days, gubernatorial candidates ran grassroots campaigns. There were no televisions, therefore, the first and maybe the only stop they would make in their quest for the Governor’s mansion, was to kiss the ring of, and get the endorsement of, the probate judge. The omnipotent probate judge would endorse them and that endorsement usually meant they would carry that county. The local folks would follow the lead of their judge. They and their county would be on the right side of the governor’s race.
The last vestige of the era of vintage Probate Judges will end this year with the retirement of Tuscaloosa Probate Judge, Hardy McCollum.
Judge McCollum is only 71. However, Alabama law disallows judges from running for reelection after age 70. He has been the longest-serving probate judge in the state, and at the time of his first election in 1976, he was the youngest probate judge in Alabama. Hardy was elected at age 28, and took the coveted office of Probate Judge at the ripe old age of 29. Hardy McCollum has served his home county as Probate Judge for 42 years.
During that time, he has consistently been considered the most popular political figure in his county. He has always run as a Democrat. When the tide turned and the state went Republican in the 1980s and 90s and most of the state’s prominent politicians switched to the Republican Party, Hardy refused to change. He withstood the tidal wave and remained the most revered public official in Tuscaloosa County.
The anomaly of his popularity is that he continues to hold the title of Chairman of the County Commission, a rarity in this day and time, especially for a large county like Tuscaloosa. There are only 15 counties in the state left where the Probate Judge still serves as Chairman of the County Commission and only two populous counties, Lee and Tuscaloosa.
See complete story in the Pickens County Herald.