Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, one of the most popular progressive governors in Southern political history, is cleaning toilets in a Louisiana jail today, convicted on bribery charges in what may be one of the worst abuses of the federal courts by the executive branch during President Bush’s tenure. Siegelman’s case, among others, was taken up October 23 in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecutions.
Siegelman was indicted by US Attorney Leura Canary, whose husband is a close friend of Karl Rove, and his seven-year sentence–the second-longest ever given to a politician convicted of bribery in this country–was doled out by Mark Fuller, a Republican judge who owes his lifetime appointment on the federal bench to the President. The bribery charges have nothing to do with personal enrichment but rather with donations Siegelman helped secure for a campaign to pass a lottery bill that would have increased funds for Alabama’s ailing public schools.
Yet his case would probably never have been investigated by Congress if it weren’t for the sworn statements of a lawyer and Republican Party operative from Alabama–statements, introduced into the public record at Tuesday morning’s hearing, that have been the subject of much contentious debate among members of the committee.
The attorney, Dana Jill Simpson, was a longtime Republican player whose sworn affidavit alleges that Siegelman was tried and convicted as part of a conspiracy to keep him from running for political office in the future.
Simpson grew up in rural northern Alabama in a small town called Rainsville, in the foothills of the Appalachians, a place known mostly for its tasty tomatoes. In a state that once voted solidly with the Democrats, she comes from a long line of Republicans, at least on her mother’s side.
Her father, an accountant and a Democrat, knew five-term Alabama Governor George Wallace well enough to get a letter from Wallace advocating her admittance to the University of Alabama law school in the early 1980s. Once admitted, however, she followed her mother’s family tradition and got involved with the Moral Majority in antiabortion campaigns, supported Ronald Reagan’s re-election bid in 1984 and went on to work as a volunteer for many Republicans over the years, including the Ten Commandments Judge, Roy Moore.
It was there at the university in Tuscaloosa that she came to know another ambitious Republican lawyer, Rob Riley, son of future Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who has been as loyal to Bush as any Republican governor in the nation. The two even share the habit of wearing cowboy boots with their dark suits.
Simpson ran against Rob Riley for president of the school’s student government in 1987. Riley, as the fraternity machine candidate, won, but the two developed a friendship anyway and went on to try legal cases together for years.
Serving as president of the Alabama Student Government Association is a long tradition for those who want to be governor of the state, just as joining Yale’s Skull and Bones has been for many Presidents, and Siegelman himself had served as its head in the late 1960s. Over the next three decades, Siegelman successfully ran for just about every public office in the state. He served as secretary of state and lieutenant governor, and after losing his first run for governor in 1990 he won in 1998 against a social conservative, Fob James–despite the fact that the state had long since turned red.