Lucy Baxley built a successful political career by always using a campaign slogan playing off Lucille Ball's long-running TV show. Voters did love Baxley for a long time, keeping her in office for years after they dispatched other Democrats. But voters finally put her out of office Tuesday in one of the biggest elections ever for the Alabama Republican Party.
Baxley, the last Democrat to hold statewide office, lost her re-election bid for Public Service Commission president to Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, who took 54 percent of the vote.
Cavanaugh took the oath of office Wednesday morning as Baxley's staff packed up her office.
Her Montgomery home is already on the market. She is planning to move to Birmingham and say goodbye to politics at age 74.
"I am not distressed about not winning," she said. "I am ready to retire. I have worked all my life — from the time I was 19."
Baxley has her third grandchild and first great-grandchild on the way, and she intends to make them the focus of her life after politics.
Baxley never planned on having a political career. She grew up poor in the tiny town of Pansey in southeast Alabama. After high school, she got hired at City Hall in Dothan and then at the county courthouse. She worked with a young district attorney named Bill Baxley and followed him to Montgomery when he was elected attorney general. They later married.
Their marriage ended after his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1986, and she worked as a single mom selling real estate.
She got the political bug in 1994 and decided to run for state treasurer. With little money, she was badly in need of a catchy slogan. She recalled a button one of her ex-husband's supporters had made in an earlier campaign. It said, "I Love Lucy, and Bill Baxley, too."
The slogan helped propel her to victory in 1994 and to re-election in 1998. While state treasurer, she married Jim Smith, but she kept the Baxley name because that's how voters knew her.
She was term-limited as treasurer in 2002 and persuaded voters to elect her Alabama's first female lieutenant governor.
A big part of the job is presiding over the state Senate, but the male-dominated chamber didn't show her much respect initially.
One day, the senators were late showing up for the start of the Senate session. Baxley declared too few members present to do any work and adjourned for the day.
The next day was supposed to be a day off, but state law required the Senate to try to meet again to make up for the lost day. Baxley said she didn't realize that many senators had tickets for a basketball game that day. Senators were furious at her for making them miss the game, but they started showing respect.
"It had a grand impact," she said.
In 2006, Baxley decided to challenge Republican Gov. Bob Riley. She could never match him in fundraising and was never able to make the race close. Three weeks after the election, she suffered a stroke.
"I am convinced it was from the prolonged stress of that campaign," she said.
Two years later, voters put her back in public office as PSC president. She narrowly defeated Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh got elected to a different seat on the PSC in 2010, setting up Tuesday's rematch.
Baxley, who uses a wheelchair, couldn't travel the state like she once did. She raised slightly more than $100,000, while Cavanaugh had three times that.
But for Baxley, the decisive factor was being portrayed as a liberal who shared President Barack Obama's views.
"The Republicans said I believe in same-sex marriage, and that is absolutely not true. It was the same thing with abortion. They label people like that because you don't happen to be a Republican, which I think is awful," she said.
Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University, said Baxley is the last of the war horses that carried the Alabama Democratic Party for years. Gov. Don Siegelman was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges. Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. got beat in 2010. And now Baxley is out of politics.
"We have no messengers or message," he said.
Baxley doesn't look for the Democratic Party to have much success in 2014, when the governor and Legislature are up for election. But she predicts the party will be re-energized after voters spend a few years seeing the impact of total GOP control of state government.
"I think the Republicans will do that for us," she said.