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Democrats should drop Siegelman issue, pundits say

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Democrats in Alabama should distance themselves from former Gov. Don Siegelman and get
to work rebuilding their party, political observers said last week.

But several Democratic leaders are defending Siegelman, who recently began a federal prison sentence.

These Democrats shouldn’t hitch their future to questions about whether Siegelman’s prosecution was politically motivated, political observers said.

State Democrats took only minutes to cry foul Monday after President Bush commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Convictions

Libby was convicted of four counts of lying under oath and obstructing justice in a federal corruption case.

Bush called Libby’s 30-month prison sentence “excessive.”

But Alabama Democratic Party spokesman Jesse McDaniel contrasted Libby’s treatment with that of Siegelman.

Siegelman left his sentencing hearing in federal court in Montgomery in shackles on his way to Atlanta Federal Prison to serve an 88-month sentence on a bribery conviction related to his 2002 campaign for a state lottery.

Siegelman has maintained his innocence and claimed that the investigation was intended to derail his political career.

“Libby’s commuted sentence sends a chilling impression to Alabamians in light of recent events in our state,” McDaniel said.

The difference in treatment the two men received “exposes a true double standard within the Bush justice system,” he added.

‘Leave that alone’

“They need to leave that alone,” Auburn University Montgomery political science professor Brad Moody said.

“It is foolishness on the part of the Democrats to do that. It looks so opportunistic.”

Some Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, say the trial of Siegelman and former HeathSouth Chief Executive Officer Richard Scrushy should receive scrutiny as part of a congressional investigation on politically motivated prosecutions.

Moody said it’s one thing for congressmen to investigate such matters, but state Democrats should disassociate themselves from Siegelman-related questions and focus on rebuilding their party.

“They need to be going out and finding fresh new faces, young people,” he said.

Female candidates

Recruiting female candidates with fresh perspectives may be one possibility.

“I believe we are past the point where being a woman is a liability in a run for office,” Moody said.

In Alabama’s 2006 elections, he said, two big winners were female Democrats: Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who leads an otherwise all-Republican appellate court system, and Public Service Commissioner Susan Parker, who serves with two male Republicans.

Doesn’t help

Athens State University political science professor Jess Brown said the comparison between Siegelman’s and Libby’s treatment does nothing for the health of the Alabama Democratic Party.

“The equity of the sentence will not be a factor in the next cycle of legislative or gubernatorial elections in Alabama,” Brown said.

Instead, he said, Democrats need to look elsewhere for issues.

Brown said the party needs to push a populist platform that gives tax advantages to the “little guy” and puts more of the tax burden on people with more money.

Also, Democrats need candidates who are “conservative on lifestyle issues like capital punishment, gay marriage and are anti-abortion.”

Repositioning

Brown said repositioning would not be easy for long-time party leaders to swallow.

Those leaders generally tend to be more liberal on lifestyle issues, he said.

The party also might run into problems from large contributors who would receive a hit from tax increases on the wealthy.

Brown called the challenge that Democrats face “the harsh reality of the bubbas and bubbettes at the crossroads.”

Even the emotional tug of a former political star’s conviction cannot overshadow that reality, he said.

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