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Siegelman conviction tops summer political charts

By By Steve Flowers
As we stroll through the dog days of summer the political scene is quiet. The opposing sides are girding up for battle in the fall. They are plotting strategy and raising money. The campaigns traditionally kickoff after Labor Day. Although it will be late September or early October when the airwaves become saturated with ads.
The biggest summer story is the conviction of Don Siegelman in Montgomery Federal Court. The jury convicted Siegelman of seven of the thirty-two charges against him, including bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and four counts of mail fraud. The federal jurors took eleven days of deliberations before they came back with a guilty verdict against Siegelman and disgraced HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy. The jury found Scrushy guilty of all six charges against him, including conspiracy and mail fraud.
It is my belief that Siegelman went down because he was linked to Scrushy. Scrushy is perceived by over 95% of Alabamians as a villain of the highest magnitude. They believe he should have been convicted in Birmingham a year ago of the massive fraud and the brazen illegal and illicit pillaging of HealthSouth. His arrogant lavish lifestyle before and after the HealthSouth scandal further incensed the average Alabamian. They believe that it was an unbelievable travesty that he was not convicted in the Birmingham trial and sent to prison for life. The prosecutors coupling Scrushy with Siegelman was a brilliant move. Obviously there were some jurors laying in wait for Scrushy and in order to convict Scrushy you would have to convict Siegelman.
Siegelman's conviction probably brings to a close a political career of epic proportions in Alabama political history. Siegelman is second only to George Wallace in political longevity and success. Siegelman was elected five times statewide to the offices of Secretary of State, Attorney General, Lt. Governor, and Governor. Whether you like Siegelman or not you have to respect his fortitude and tenacity during this fight. If by some miraculous reason he is successful on appeal you can bet your bottom dollar that you will see his name on the ballot again. He is like a cat with nine lives. However, all nine may finally be used up. Siegelman's legacy has been diminished by the conviction as well as all his personal resources he had accumulated during his life.
This conviction brings to light how dramatically things have changed politically in my lifetime. This sets a new standard for political fundraising. The pivotal question of what is a contribution and what is a bribe comes into play and a new standard has been created by this verdict. In bygone days it was assumed that people gave money to campaigns hoping they would get something or some special treatment from the candidate they supported if that candidate won.
During the Wallace and Folsom eras it was talked about and laughed about openly. Big Jim's first question when an appointment or road contract came up was, "Is he our man?" and "Did he help us get elected?" He would call contributors up and say, "You helped me bake the pie so you need to come feed at the trough. How can we help you make some money?" When the press asked Gov. George Wallace one day why he gave a road contract to one of his cronies and largest contributors, he retorted, "Who do you think I'm going to give it to, my enemy?"
On another note, during the summer months many Alabamians enjoy our beautiful lakes and although our Department of Natural Resources officers are doing a good job of policing the lakes striving to ward off tragic mishaps boating accidents are inevitable. Recently during the Fourth of July holiday a horrendous accident occurred when a woman on a jet ski was hit by a 39 foot long speed boat. Despite the DNR having eight officers policing the lake and giving numerous citations for safety violations this tragedy still occurred. The woman was hit by the speed boat when she was pulling into a private dock. The speed boat was traveling almost 80 mph when it collided with the jet ski which was totally destroyed. Thankfully the woman miraculously survived. However, the laws governing these speed boats need to be reviewed in an attempt to save lives on our magnificent state lakes.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us