December 9, 2013 8:38:03 AM
JACKSON -- Former Mississippi Gov. Bill Allain was known for his quick wit, sharp analytical mind and willingness to challenge entrenched interests.
Allain died Dec. 2 at age 85. Even as he reached the height of state politics in the 1980s, friends and associates say the Democrat never got caught up in any pretentious trappings of office. He rarely entertained at the Governor's Mansion, and one of his key appointees recalled that Allain remained focused on why he chose government work.
"He was very much concerned about what we would call the everyday people -- people without title or without portfolio," said Beverly Wade Hogan, who was director of federal-state programs during the Allain administration, starting in 1984, and is now president of Tougaloo College in Jackson.
Allain railed against utility companies that wanted to charge higher rates and federal bureaucrats who proposed storing nuclear waste in Mississippi. If these issues sound familiar three decades later, they should. Utility rates have been steadily in the news the past couple of years, and the idea of making Mississippi a site for nuclear waste storage has been promoted the past few months by another former governor, Republican Haley Barbour.
Democrat Brandon Presley, now in his second term as northern district public service commissioner, was a child when Allain was in office and said he long admired Allain's approach to governance.
"He had pure, undaunted courage to stand up for the average guy who couldn't give a campaign contribution, couldn't hire a lobbyist," Presley said.
The commissioner said that several years ago, Allain gave him a cache of old campaign material, including the video clip of a 1983 campaign commercial that showed Allain working up a crowd with a populist stump speech.
"Now, the power companies can't beat me. The powerful legislators can't beat me. ... The federal government can't beat me in putting nuclear waste in Mississippi," Allain said as people cheered.
Some top Republicans say they admired Allain's broad knowledge of the law.
"During the last 20 years, we kept in touch, and he was nice enough to take time to provide counsel on issues of mutual importance," said state GOP chairman Joe Nosef, who's an attorney. "His public service to the state of Mississippi and the country should be appreciated by all."
Allain was one of five children born to a Mississippi River captain, and he grew up in Catholic in Natchez. He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and law degree from the University of Mississippi. He practiced law for a short time in Natchez before serving three years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After an honorable discharge in 1953, he returned to Mississippi to practice law, including work in Jackson as an assistant attorney general.
He won two statewide elections -- for attorney general in 1979 and for governor in 1983.
As attorney general, he successfully sued to remove legislators from state government boards and commissions. During his first year as governor, he pushed to enact those changes in law. Those moves strengthened the executive branch.
During the 1983 election, Republican money men targeted Allain with some of the most scurrilous campaign attacks in state history, sexual allegations that Allain vehemently denied. He told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview that he held no grudge.
Democrat William Winter, who was governor when Allain was attorney general, said the 1983 campaign appeared to make Allain draw inward.
"He was a very private man, a very private person, did not seek the limelight," Winter said.