William A. Allain: Fifty-ninth Governor of Mississippi: 1984-1988
While serving as attorney general of the state of Mississippi in the early 1980s, Bill Allain filed a suit asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to separate the functions of the executive and legislative branches of state government, especially in the budgetary process. Prior to that suit, members of the Mississippi Legislature served on boards, commissions, and agencies in the executive branch. Attorney General Allain asserted that Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution required a separation of powers and that legislative officials could not serve in the executive branch. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of the attorney general and ordered the separation of the two branches of government. That ruling strengthened the executive branch of state government, especially the office of governor which is considered one of the weakest chief executives in the nation. The court’s mandate was carried out in the Administrative Reorganization Act of 1984.
Allain was born February 14, 1928, in Washington, Mississippi. He was educated at Notre Dame University and earned a law degree at the University of Mississippi in 1950. During the Korean War, Allain served three years in the United States Infantry, much of which was spent in combat zones in Korea. After his discharge in 1953, Allain practiced law in Natchez until 1962 when he was appointed assistant state attorney general.
From 1962 to 1975, Allain represented Mississippi in cases before state courts, the federal district and circuit court of appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. In 1979 he was elected state attorney general. While in that office Allain built a strong reputation as a consumer advocate. Two of his most notable achievements were the prevention of a utility rate increase and the exclusion of Mississippi as a nuclear waste site. In his successful campaign for governor in 1983, Allain carried seventy-four of the state’s eighty-two counties.
Governor Allain continued his support for constitutional reform. Shortly after he took office on January 10, 1984, he appointed a 350-member commission to study the state’s 1890 Constitution. After a thorough review of the existing constitution, the commission drafted a new document and Governor Allain recommended its adoption. The Mississippi Legislature, however, took no action on Governor Allain’s proposal.
The constitutional amendment restructuring the state board of education, which was part of the Education Reform Act of 1982, was implemented during Governor Allain’s administration. That amendment provided for an appointed state superintendent of education and a nine-member state board of education.
A constitutional amendment allowing the governor to succeed himself was passed near the end of Governor Allain’s term, with his strong endorsement. Governor Allain considered running for re-election but eventually decided not to seek a second term. After leaving office in January 1988, Governor Allain resumed the practice of law in Jackson. He died December 2, 2013, at age 85.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted January 2004; updated January 2014
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1984-1988), 90.
William Allain Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
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