Sen. Barron awarded #036;15.2 million in suit against Alfa

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2000

Surely you have heard about it…probably you have watched it…but the hottest TV show of the season, is a show that asks if you would like to be a millionaire.

Last week a jury in DeKalb County topped that show considerably-it made State Sen. Lowell Barron a multimillionaire. The jury awarded the lawmaker $15.2 million in a suit he filed against Alfa Insurance and two of

its executives.

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Barron claimed the giant farm organization/insurance company had invaded his privacy by hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on him during a long and ugly legislative fight over a seat on the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

Whether that full amount will be paid remains to be seen. Awards like that are oftentimes reduced, but it seems certain Barron (and his superstar lawyer, Jere Beasley) will come out of the litigation with a sizable chunk of change.

To make matters worse for Alfa, waiting in the wings for his turn in court is State Sen. Hinton Mitchem of Albertville. He too was a target of the same investigation. He has filed an identical suit against Alfa and it stands to reason he may get a similar award.

The verdict in the Barron suit was just one more blow to Alfa…which is still known by many by its old name of Alabama Farm Bureau…as a political heavyweight in Alabama.

There was a time when the organization was something close to a 500-pound gorilla in the state political arena. Its network of insurance agents was the core of a powerful political organization, but no less important was the huge war chest it accumulated in its political action committee.

It's former president, Goodwyn Myrick, a key witness in the Barron case, has publicly boasted of having elected governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general and U. S. Senators. He wasn't exaggerating. And he could have added a host of legislators as well.

Credit (or blame) for the power accumulated by this organization must go to the late Ed Lowder, who as executive vice president for decades, not only built the insurance company into one of the most successful in the nation but also increasingly involved Alfa in big-league Alabama politics.

In the late 1970s Goodwyn Myrick of Southside became president of the company and it soon became evident that Alfa was not big enough for both he and Lowder. Somebody had to go and it was Lowder. It was not a happy parting. An enmity between the two developed which carried on into the next generation.

Several years ago when the term of Bobby Lowder, the son of Ed, as an Auburn trustee expired, Myrick and Alfa waged an all out war to replace him with one of their own, Phil Richardson, an Alfa vice president.

The fight got down and dirty, including the investigation of Sens. Barron and Mitchem, who were staunch supporters of the reappointment of Bobby Lowder.

Coupled with this controversy was the growing disenchantment of many Alfa members with the politics being played by Myrick. He often times injected the organization into fights which appeared to be of little concern to farmers. There is an old expression in Alabama politics which warns of getting in another dog's fight. Myrick appeared to violate that rule.

In 1998, seeing the handwriting on the wall, Myrick chose to retire as Alfa president rather than face possible defeat for another term.

His successor, Jerry Newby of Athens, is a pleasant, soft-spoken, low key man who has said the organization in the future will concern itself chiefly with issues of importance to its members and stay clear of fights in which they have no dog.

Without question, this is a new Alfa, one with greatly diminished muscle on Capitol Hill. This is due in part to circumstance, partly by design by its new leadership. The 500-pound gorilla has lost a lot of weight.