Monday, May 01, 2006

Alabama corruption trial begins

Alabama ex-Gov. Don Siegelman seems determined to challenge Jim Trafficant and Marion Barry in the All-Time Shameless Democrat Sweepstakes, running for governor even as his federal corruption trial gets underway:
Former Gov. Don Siegelman went on trial Monday on charges he swapped political favors for gifts and campaign donations in deals with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and two of his cabinet members. ...

Siegelman, a Democrat who was governor from 1999 to 2003, is charged wit bribery and extortion. He insists the charges are an effort by Republican prosecutors to derail his campaign ... and his lawyers told jurors Monday the charges are based on lies.

Siegelman has promised to stay in the race for the Democratic nomination even though the trial coincides with the final weeks of the campaign before the June 6 primary. ...

Scrushy is charged with bribery and mail fraud involving $500,000 in campaign donations to Siegelman. ...
Poor Don: Another victim of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy -- as if the GOP needed to persecute poor Don to prevent him from surging to victory in November. In truth, Alabama has trended heavily toward the GOP in recent years -- Bush carried 63% of the state's vote in 2004 — and the hopes of any Democrat winning the governorship are a serious longshot.

Siegelman, a business-oriented Democrat who spent 20 years in public office, was plagued by accusations of corruption almost from the time he was elected governor in 1998. Bob Riley barely beat Siegelman in 2002, in the most expensive governor's race in Alabama history.

After taking office, Gov. Riley nearly destroyed himself by advocating a tax increase, was rebuffed by the GOP-led state legislature, and has since emerged as a born-again tax-cutter. Riley's new anti-tax stand has put him in good shape, despite a primary challenge from the "Ten Commandments Judge," Roy Moore. And the latest polls show Riley comfortably leading all contenders: Moore, Siegelman and Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley:

The Mobile Press-Register/University of South Alabama poll found Riley with 49 percent and Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley with 33 percent in one head-to-head matchup. In another, Riley polled 56 percent and former Gov. Don Siegelman 23 percent.

The poll, released Sunday, follows two recent statewide polls that showed Riley with a substantial lead over former Chief Justice Roy Moore headed into the Republican primary on June 6.

In the new poll, when Moore was matched against Baxley, she led him 50 percent to 32 percent. When Moore was pitted against Siegelman, it was a much tighter race, with Moore polling 39 percent and Siegelman 35 percent.

Given that Riley beats Siegelman by more than 30 points in a head-to-head matchup, it's rather farfetched to imagine that the corruption charges are some GOP plot. But if it makes Don feel better ... well, it's less than five weeks until the primary, after which Siegelman's political career will be over, so it's probably harmless to humor his persecution fantasies.

Will Siegelman be found guilty? Probably not. Proving a quid pro quo is devilishly difficult, as the corruption trial of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell showed. Siegelman will spend a few weeks twisting in the wind, testimony will allege this and that, most people in Alabama will privately decide he was crooked, but the jury won't convict.

Corrupt or not, Siegelman's a fool for trying to run for governor with this accusation hanging over his head. He's only contributing to the further decline of the Democratic Party in Alabama, and it's a good bet that -- as an indirect result — Baxley will be beaten badly in November.


UPDATE: Did Siegelman, a rich white guy, actually find a way to play the race card Monday? A lawyer who once represented Rosa Parks is attorney for one of Siegelman's co-defendants, and managed to mention his previous representation of Mrs. Parks to the jury during opening arguments. Watch out for this aspect of the case.

UPDATE: It was very cool to see we got linked here.

Previously on SIEGELMAN:

4/27: Democrats' Dixie debacles
3/6: Indicted Dem launches campaign
2/3: Dem ex-governor faces trial

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