Florence native Ronnie Gene Flippo (1937- ) served as a Democratic representative to the U.S. Congress from 1977 to 1991. During his tenure in Congress, Flippo was a popular conservative Democrat who was recognized as an authority on fiscal matters and devoted to reforming the tax code and budgeting procedures. He has also worked as an accountant, private management consultant, and lobbyist.
Flippo was born in Florence, Lauderdale County, on August 15, 1937, to Claude N. and Esther M. Flippo. His father was killed on a construction site in 1943. Flippo obtained his early education from the public schools of Florence and graduated from Coffee High School in 1955 and went to work as an ironworker. He married Faye Cooper in November 1958, and the couple would have six children. Although he survived a 55-foot fall while working at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) steam plant in 1961, Flippo broke his arms, legs, and pelvic bone and was confined to bed for nearly 18 months. Suffering permanent damage to his knee, Flippo entered Florence State University with the proceeds from his workman’s compensation.
Flippo earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1965 and then continued at the University of Alabama, where he received a master’s degree in accounting in 1966. From 1968 to 1970, he worked as a part-time instructor at the University of North Alabama, where he taught accounting. In 1971, he ran successfully as a Democrat for seat representing First District in the Alabama House of Representatives. In 1972, he founded the accounting firm of Flippo and Robbins. After serving two terms in the Alabama House, he won a seat in the Alabama Senate in 1975.
Following the 1976 retirement of Robert Emmett Jones Jr., Flippo defeated John Eyster in a runoff election on November 2 for Alabama’s Fifth District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (This district encompasses the counties of Lauderdale, Colbert, Limestone, Lawrence, Madison, Jackson, and part of Morgan County.) He initially served on the Public Works and Science and Technology committees. He was selected by the Democratic National Committee to speak at the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City regarding the larger role of the Democratic Party in the South. Flippo generally favored business and small government in his votes, opposing labor-friendly bills.
Flippo was elected to the House Ways and Means Committee in 1983 and was the first Alabamian on that panel in nearly 70 years. He opposed the Reagan Administration’s attempts to restrict the deductions banks could take for reserves held to cover bad debts, but he was overridden by the committee. In 1985, Flippo co-sponsored legislation to repeal part of the 1984 Tax Reform Act, which required citizens to maintain burdensome records of mileage in order to claim car or truck expenses. The act contained more than 100 provisions and was part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, which sought to reduce the federal budget deficit.
He served as chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology Space Science Subcommittee during the development of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the first to fly into space, and supported the immediate construction of a shuttle orbiter following the explosion of the Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. Flippo also chaired the Tennessee Valley Authority Congressional Caucus and was a strong advocate for the TVA’s reorganization and modernization. He proposed the addition of six seats to the three-member TVA board and suggested that seven of those members must be residents of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, or Virginia—the states most affected by TVA policies. (In 2005, TVA governance was amended with the creation of a nine-member part-time board.) In 1985, he sponsored the Sipsey Expansion Bill to add 28,000 acres to the protected Sipsey Wilderness Area of Bankhead National Forest but was stalled in the Agriculture Committee by senators aligned with north Alabama timber and mining interests until its passage in 1988.
In 1989, he embarked on a ten-day trip to Hungary, East and West Germany (which were still divided at the time), and Morocco to meet with trade, finance, and foreign policy officials to improve international trade with the Eastern Bloc and North Africa in response to the Soviet Union’s policy of greater openness.
Flippo retired from Congress in 1991 and was succeeded by Robert E. “Bud” Cramer. That same year, he ran for governor of Alabama but finished fourth in the Democratic primary behind former governor Forrest “Fob” James, Attorney General Don Siegelman, and the Alabama Education Association’s Paul Hubbert. In 1995, Flippo was appointed to the board of directors for Bank Independent in Colbert and Lauderdale Counties. Following his political career, in 1991 he founded a successful private management consulting and lobbying firm, R. G. Flippo & Associates, which has offices in Florence as well as Potomac, Maryland. Since 2001, R. G. Flippo & Associates has lobbied on behalf of such businesses and organizations as the Alabama Nursing Home Association, Alabama Power Company, Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority, Lockheed Martin, Troy University, Orbital Sciences Corporation, and the Coffee Health Group. In 2010 and 2011, his firm donated money to Alabama senator Richard Shelby‘s Defend America PAC.
Flippo serves on the governing bodies of numerous organizations, including the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia, the Alabama Commission on Infrastructure, the Valley Innovation Alliance, and the University of North Alabama Foundation. He campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, and four years later for incumbent Republican president George W. Bush. In 2007, Flippo was inducted into the City of Florence Walk of Honor. He campaigned unsuccessfully to represent District Five in the Alabama House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2012. He currently resides in Florence.
Flippo has earned many honors and awards. In 1972, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Alabama Rehabilitation Service and in 1974 became the only non-lawyer to receive the Alabama Bar Association’s Award of Merit. The University of North Alabama selected him as Alumni of the Year in 1976. In 1981, the University of North Alabama established the “Ronnie Flippo Room” at Collier Library in his honor to house congressional documents. Alabama A&M University presented him with an honorary L.L.D. degree.
- Flippo, Ronnie Gene. Papers: 1977-1990. Collier Library, University of North Alabama, Florence, Alabama.