One of the most successful politicians in Alabama history, having been elected to statewide office six times, Jim Folsom, Jr. was elected Lieutenant Governor of Alabama in 2006, having returned to politics after twelve years in private business. He previously served Alabama as Lt. Governor from 1987 until 1993, and as Governor from 1993 until 1995.
The son of legendary Alabama Governor “Big Jim” Folsom, Jim Folsom was born in Montgomery during his father’s first term as Alabama’s Governor and was raised in Montgomery and Cullman with his eight brothers and sisters. Folsom graduated from Jacksonville State University in 1974, having financed his education by working at a textile mill and the Jacksonville, Alabama post office. Following graduation, he worked with the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations and Reynolds Metals.
In 1978, Jim Folsom launched his political career with his election to the Alabama Public Service Commission. He was reelected in 1982. In 1986 and again in 1990, he was elected to the position of Lt. Governor, each time with overwhelming majorities.
Seen as a great facilitator with a bi-partisan governing style, Jim Folsom enjoyed electoral success due to an unprecedented coalition of rank and file Democrats, pro-business and law enforcement groups.
As Governor, Jim Folsom focused on numerous efforts to move Alabama forward, including the controversial removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the Alabama capitol dome. Folsom also appointed more women and African Americans to state posts than any previous Alabama Governor.
Perhaps Jim Folsom‘s most important contribution, to Alabama and the entire southeastern United States, was personally directing Alabama’s efforts to attract the first Mercedes-Benz automobile manufacturing plant built outside Germany. Despite being told by many that it could not be done, his work culminated with the announcement that Alabama had beaten out numerous other states for the coveted industry, opening the door for future automotive plants to locate within the state.
Southern Business and Development Magazine had this to say in 2004:
Former Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr. certainly took intense heat in the national and international media in 1993 when he approved over a quarter-billion-dollars in incentives for a Mercedes-Benz plant. Skeptics claimed Jim Folsom‘s and Alabama’s deal with Mercedes was one of the biggest wastes of state tax dollars in industrial recruitment history. It’s clear that Jim Folsom was right and just about everyone else was wrong, considering the fact that Mercedes paved the way for Honda, Toyota and Hyundai and over 250 automotive suppliers to invest in Alabama in just 10 years. There is no question in our minds that the automotive industry’s expansion in the Southern Automotive Corridor is the No. 1 economic development story in the South…
Today, because of Jim Folsom‘s vision and foresight to successfully recruit Mercedes, Alabamians enjoy some 50,000 direct jobs, and twice as many indirect jobs,. To date, the automotive industry has invested more than $7 billion in Alabama, and more than two million automobiles have been manufactured in the state.
In his last term as Lt. Governor from 2006-2011, Jim Folsom continued to focus on Economic Development. He was an integral part of the team that recruited Thyssen-Krupp, the world’s largest steel producer, and other major economic development projects to the Alabama. Folsom also established a historically unprecedented public-private partnership commission to address the state’s transportation infrastructure needs.
Most people remain unaware that the American space program began in the 1950’s in Huntsville, Alabama under the leadership of Dr. Werner Von Braun. Jim Folsom led the effort to focus national attention on Alabama’s historic Aerospace sector through his service as National Vice Chairman of the Aerospace States Association. Due greatly to Folsom‘s leadership and influence, Alabama is currently home to 280 Aerospace related companies and employs over 157,000 people.
Choosing to take action on an issue that personally affected his family, Jim Folsom co-founded the Alabama Autism Task Force which received national recognition for innovation, making Alabama a national leader in the field of Autism advocacy, research, and education. In 2008, Folsom received an Autism pioneer award from Glynwood, a national Autism advocacy group.
In his bid for reelection in 2010, Jim Folsom was unable to stem a partisan wave that swept every Democrat from state office. However, Jim Folsom garnered more votes than any other Democrat on the ballot and totaled more votes than he had ever received in any previous election.
During his political career Jim Folsom held leadership positions in the National Governors Association, the National Lt. Governors Association, the Democratic Governors association and the Democratic Lt. Governor’s Association.
Today, Jim Folsom continues to work as a successful investment banker, playing key roles in major economic and community development projects across the country. With a speaking style marked by a soothing southern drawl compared to “syrup pouring on tile”, Folsom is highly sought after as a speaker on economic development and political topics.
He is married to Marsha Guthrie Folsom, and they are the proud parents of two adult children, Meghan and James, III.