Thursday, January 6, 2011

Siegelman snookers a senility-plagued Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston, campaigning for Bob Riley in one of his
 final public appearances, in September 2002 in 
Huntsville. Photo courtesy of David Azbell.

            The following is an excerpt from, "The Governor of Goat Hill," about the 2002 election between Siegelman and Riley. It provides three examples revealing Siegelman's desperation in the months preceding the vote. One involves, of all people, Charlton Heston; and another, the irrepressible Stan Pate.
        Almost every story analyzing the race broached Siegelman’s ethics
problems, as did a Phil (Associated Press reporter) Rawls’ piece two months before
the election, and which read in part:

            By most measures, Siegelman ought to be in good shape. In the past four years,
he spurred the largest school construction program in state history, replacing most of
Alabama’s portable classrooms. He pushed through the state’s biggest rural road program
ever, replacing hundreds of outdated bridges. And thousands of new auto industry jobs
have come to Alabama as Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes announced new plants or
expansions with Siegelman’s encouragement.
            But Siegelman has been damaged by an investigation of his finances and by
allegations that friends have won sweetheart deals from the state.
            Riley is focusing his campaign almost solely on Siegelman’s ethics. With the slogan
“honest change,” he tells voters that the Siegelman administration is “sinking into a
quicksand of corruption and fraud.”
            Polls taken in September and October showed the pair even, but as the
election neared, Riley began pulling away. A poll published two days before the
election suggested a comfortable Riley win, with Siegelman’s “negatives” higher
than ever. Just 30 percent picked him as the more ethical of the two.
            Siegelman’s desperation in the late going was illustrated by three seamy
affairs, the first during an address to the state Alabama Roadbuilders Association.
            According to multiple accounts, the governor’s talk quickly evolved into a tirade
against roadbuilders who’d donated to Riley through PACs.
            “I know who you are!” Siegelman bellowed, to the discomfort and shock
of those in the audience that included state and federal highway department
officials. Though he didn’t name names, the governor glared at a southwest
Alabama roadbuilder known as a Riley backer. None of the half dozen or so
people I spoke to were willing to go on the record so Siegelman’s behavior that
day went unreported.
            A September trip to Alabama by Charlton Heston produced a second example
of Siegelman’s willingness to go to any lengths to win an election.
            The Riley campaign and state Republicans had arranged for Heston to come
to Alabama and join Riley for stops throughout the state. Six weeks earlier, the
actor turned National Rifle Association bulldog announced he had Alzheimer’s. It
was obvious during his trip to Alabama that Heston was fading.
            “You expected Moses to walk in, bearing tablets,” said Azbell, the Riley
spokesman. “What you got was this elderly man, obviously infirm, who kind of
shuffled to the podium.”
            Heston had to read off cue cards, and even then, only spoke for a minute or
two at each stop. On the day’s last stop, in Huntsville, Heston told the crowd that
he “enjoyed my trip across Texas today.”
            Heston did go to Texas, but the next day. Azbell said it was his understanding
that the Lone Star trip was Heston’s last such public appearance.
            Soon after the visit, the Siegelman campaign announced that Heston, while
in Alabama, had signed a letter endorsing Siegelman for governor. This seemed
impossible, since the NRA almost never endorses Democrats, and because Heston
had, after all, traveled the state with Riley and other Republicans.
            Heston, it turned out, had fl own into Mobile the night before with his public
relations assistants. That evening, Siegelman and his wife came to Heston’s hotel
room. There, Heston signed the letter endorsing Siegelman.
            The Riley campaign and state Republican officials accused Siegelman of
taking advantage of Heston’s near-senility. However, a spokesman for Heston said
the former actor knew what he was doing. Republicans later alleged that Heston’s
P.R. people, working at the bequest of a Siegelman backer, arranged the hotel visit
and endorsement.
            Regardless of the how Siegelman managed it, his calling on the ailing Heston
during the latter’s trip to Alabama to support Riley and Republicans was a cheeky,
immature bit of political gamesmanship.
            The lowest act of the campaign came with an assist from Stan Pate, one of the
more eccentric players in Alabama politics. Pate is a wealthy Tuscaloosa real estate
developer who vaulted into the spotlight by flirting with running for governor as
an arch-conservative, tax-fighting Republican. He’s remained a player because he
spends a lot of money being one.
            He started off a Siegelman enemy, helping fund the anti-lottery campaign.
Somewhere along the way, post-lottery, Pate and Siegelman patched things up, and
in a big way. After Nick Bailey resigned from the administration in December 2001,
Pate hired him to do God knows what, and at this writing, is still his employer.
In 2007, Pate was to have some unclear role in the Jill Simpson affair, meeting
with the woman who did more than anyone to transform Siegelman into the
nation’s number one political prisoner.
            Near campaign’s end, Pate paid to produce a race-baiting ad showing a
clip from a taped meeting between Riley and a group of black Republicans.
            The producer switched from color to bad quality black-and-white to achieve a
seedy effect. A narrator said that Riley was “cutting back-room deals for African-
American support;” and that controversial Birmingham attorney Donald Watkins,
who is black, had endorsed Riley.
            The Birmingham News reported the ad and Pate’s role in producing and peddling
it. Siegelman publicly if not at all convincingly denied knowing about it.
            When TV stations refused to run the commercial, Pate tried to pawn it off on
the Libertarian Party, along with a $100,000 donation so the party could buy air
time. That effort also failed.
            This might have been it had Paul Hamrick’s boss, Joe Perkins, not gelled up a
press release and distributed the ad to the media. The Matrix Man told the AP he had
no connection with Pate, but publicized the ad because he thought it interesting.
Pate declined to respond when asked if he was working with the Siegelman
campaign. He would only say that he financed the spot because he was tired of
Riley’s “hypocritical rhetoric about backroom deals.”
            It was Alabama politics at its duplicitous, racist worst, and played by a man
who owed his every win to black voters.
            “We can’t do it without you,” Siegelman told a mostly black crowd in Selma
at the same time he was trying to scoop redneck votes away from Riley by showing
his foe conferring with blacks.
            Post-election analyses revealed that it was a heavy turnout by blacks that 
almost delivered a second term to Siegelman.

                                            Stan Pate, the wild-man of Alabama politics, a self-described
                                            Republican who supported Siegelman, hated Bob Riley, and 
                                            political ally of Milton McGregor and the latter's efforts
                                            to legalize "electronic bingo" in Alabama. This photo by
                                            the Birmingham News.

An analysis of the upcoming oral arguments before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, with lawyers for Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy arguing that a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court should result in the reversal of findings of guilt against the pair.

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