News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JULY 2, 2006


Siegelman had opportunity to be New South governor

A decade or so ago, the term "New South governor" meant a state chief executive who would shake the dust from Dixie and help pull the region into the mainstream.

Being a New South governor meant having the charisma, the drive, the conviction, the vision and political smarts to outfox the old guards of state politics.

Alabama had been through George Wallace's reign, suffered more embarrassment when Guy Hunt left office early as a convicted man, and bounced around through the ebb and flow of Fob James.

Alabama was ready for change when Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman challenged Mr. James eight years ago. Most Alabamians watched Mr. Siegelman cut his political teeth as he served in more state offices than any other governor. Tall, muscular and blond, he turned heads with his appearance and kept attention with his message of change for Alabama.

He might be that New South governor, many people hoped.

Now 60, thinning hair that's turned gray with time, Mr. Siegelman had a federal jury in Montgomery last week confirm the widespread gossip that he was a corrupt politician.

He along with HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy felt the sting of a verdict that said Mr. Scrushy bought a seat on a state hospital board with $500,000 in contributions to the governor's education lottery campaign.

The evidence in the trial that went on for nearly two months was damning. Even if jurors discounted most of the 32 charges against Mr. Siegelman, it painted the picture of a governor's office that was for sale.

It doesn't matter that Mr. Siegelman may have used the money for his campaigns. One former governor once acknowledged that sure, he stole but he stole for the people.

Good government doesn't run that way. Good governors shouldn't operate in that fashion.

Mr. Siegelman believed in the right things for Alabama but couldn't stand the relentless pressure of doing business as usual.

It's good when bad politicians fall, but it is also a tragedy when someone with the talent and energy of Mr. Siegelman falls so far short of promise.

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