David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times’ Washington Bureau took a deep left turn into flyover country last week, churning out an appallingly inaccurate article on former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Siegelman was convicted on felony bribery charges in 2006 (after being voted out of office in 2003). Siegelman, whose prior appeals had been largely denied (two minor counts were thrown out by the Eleventh Circuit while the major bribery convictions remained intact), appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS declined to hear that appeal on Monday. Siegelman, who served nine months of a seven-year prison term before being released on bond in 2008 pending appeals, will now go back to federal court in Alabama for re-sentencing.
Much of Savage’s article should be downright amusing to those familiar with either Siegelman or Alabama. In attempting to explain the strange creatures from this mysterious hinterland to his La-La Land readership, Savage presents this:
Siegelman was the rare Democrat who could win in Alabama. He had also won election as Alabama’s secretary of state, attorney general, and lieutenant governor. But his career ended when Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys charged him with corruption.
That’s one way to put it, if you either don’t know a thing about the political history of Alabama or are anxious to put a pro-Siegelman spin on the whole affair. While all of Alabama’s statewide offices did flip — by significant margins — to the GOP in the 2010 elections, prior to that year “Dirty Don” was far from being a “rare” Democratic officeholder.
How far? The state legislature had been majority Democrat for an astonishing 136 consecutive years prior to 2010.
The lieutenant governor’s office, which Siegelman held from 1995-1999, has had exactly two Republican occupants in the state’s post-Reconstruction history.
But, “rare.” Should I go on?
As Savage notes, Siegelman was also secretary of state. A total of four Republicans have held that office since Reconstruction, the most recent being Nancy Worley from 2002-2007. Ditto for attorney general: four Republicans.
How about governor? Alabama has had exactly four GOP governors. The first in the modern era, Guy Hunt, came to power essentially by accident in 1986 when the Democratic Party tossed out primary nominee Charlie Graddick in favor of its preferred candidate Bill Baxley. Up until that year, the Democratic primary had been tantamount to election in any statewide race. (At the federal level, Alabama has had fairly even party distribution over the past several decades.)
Speaking of Guy Hunt, he was cashiered out of office following a 1992 conviction on ethics charges, which was widely considered a partisan prosecution carried out by a Democratic attorney general.
Savage also was wrong with plain points of fact regarding Siegelman’s prosecution. He wrote regarding the first of two corruption trials for Siegelman:
To the surprise of many, a jury in Birmingham acquitted him on all the counts in 2005.
Eh, that’s not what happened. Savage didn’t even get the year right.
The 2004 case never went to jury. The charges were summarily thrown out by now-retired Carter appointee U.W. Clemon, an old political associate of Siegelman’s and in his day considered one of the most nakedly partisan federal judges in the country.
Savage was obviously briefed for his story by Siegelman’s defense team and political allies. He repeated long-since debunked tropes about the Siegelman prosecution being a dastardly trick on the part of Karl Rove (I’d wager Rove barely knew Siegelman’s name when The Don was in office). Savage neglected to point out that Siegelman was once a fair-haired boy for the American Trial Lawyers Association, the members of which have been quite keen on getting Dirty Don sprung over the years.
Siegelman was also a staunch supporter of Bill Clinton. Considering Clinton is only slightly less popular than the NCAA Committee on Infractions in the state, this fact likely contributed to Siegleman’s defeat after his only term as governor — another point Savage didn’t note. Savage also did not mention Siegelman’s life-long membership in the old dirty Machine of Alabama politics, his status — like every other Alabama Democrat in the ’60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s — as a crony of the late, unlamented George Wallace, or …
But who am I kidding here? Savage obviously neither knows nor cares anything about the state or the people he’s writing about. All that mattered to him (and apparently his editors) was painting yet another hackneyed portrait of “Southern justice,” complete with every lame stock character in the book.