How women ride Alabama's political merry-go-round into office

In Alabama politics, they call it the Merry-Go-Round. It's been a women's game for years.

Here's how it's played.

For years women have often been elected to the posts of state auditor, treasurer, and secretary of state. They have also served in cabinet posts. But until a few years ago, Alabama limited its top elected officers, including governor, to one term (now two consecutive terms).

So when their term ended, some of the women simply ran for the next office down the hall. Agnes Baggett played the game to perfection - serving 28 years straight, in a rotation through all three offices from 1950 to 1978.

And she was a tough campaigner - crisscrossing the state and sometimes winning every county. She ran her first race with the help of a 1942 Chrysler and $2,400 in savings. Today she recalls the responsibility she felt each time the voters placed their ''trust'' in her and how sometimes she had to stand up to governors.

No Alabama woman has come close to matching her record. But a long list of other women have been elected to the three posts over the years, some in merry-go-round fashion, others simply dropping out and returning later.

Shortly after World War II, for example, Sybil Pool was elected state auditor , then treasurer in the next election. In the '70s Melba Tilla Allen served two terms as state auditor, then was elected treasurer. But she was jailed during the latter term for an ethics law violation.

Women are still winning big today in Alabama. Jan Cook just defeated another woman in the Democratic runoff for state auditor (and faces little opposition in November.). Annie Laurie Gunter has just won the Democratic renomination as treasurer, amassing more votes than any candidate for any office in the election.

But the merry-go-round appears to be slowing. Betty Frink, who became the youngest secretary of state in Alabama's history in 1959 and is just finishing her third term as auditor, lost this season's race for her old office.

The winner, the incumbent secretary of state, is a man, Don Seigelman.

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