Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interview with Don Siegelman

Legalized gambling has been a hot button issue in Alabama politics for decades. Many advocates have argued that the revenue from these endeavors could be put to use to fund educational opportunities for the children of the state of Alabama. There efforts have been fought at every step of the way by religious groups as well as vested political and economic interests from surrounding states who depend on the revenue brought in from Alabamians who choose to gamble in their state. The political maneuvering around this issue is filled with intrigue with power plays brought about not only by factions seeking to keep gaming out of Alabama, but also by those who wish to control the politics of this state.

In ironic twists, pro-gaming advocates and elected officials have been targeted twice in this state for federal indictments on corruption charges. In 2004, Don Siegelman was indicted and later convicted on corruption charges tied to his advocacy for legalized gaming in Alabama. In 2010, eleven indictments were brought against elected officials and other pro-gaming interests in the state. The two cases are eerily similar and both brought a resounding close to efforts towards legalizing gambling in the state of Alabama. I recently contacted former Governor Don Siegelman and asked if I could interview him about legalized gaming, his own prosecution , and the current indictments surrounding legalized gaming in Alabama. This is what transpired.

1. With regards to political maneuvering, especially around the issue of legalized gambling in Alabama and the opposition to it, what do you think is going on in this state?

There is an orchestrated effort to shut down gaming in the state of Alabama to protect the economic interests of the Indian casino owners in Mississippi and the casino owners in Louisiana.

2. Who is involved with this political maneuvering, particularly in driving the criminalization of pro-gaming advocates and lobbyists?

Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove, and the gaming industries in Mississippi and Louisiana. Senator John McCain outlined their involvement on the floor of the senate when he exposed the “Give Me Five” emails exchanged between Mike Scanlon and Jack Abramoff.

3. The GOP now has control of every branch of state government in Alabama. Has the entire political system in Alabama been co-opted by the conservative right? What do you make of this?

Alabama has some difficult days ahead. Like all pendulums, I believe this one will swing again-and Democrats will be electable, particularly as issues of education and economic and social welfare arise in this state.

4. Was there some kind of grand strategy at play in Alabama politics in terms of taking power in the state and going after pro-gaming advocates?

It is a confluence of economic and political operatives. Karl Rove’s stated goal was to control politics in America for the next fifty years. It was Rove and the Mississippi and Louisiana casinos who funneled the money into Alabama in an effort to defeat me in 1999. Both he and former special assistant to George H. W. Bush, Billy Canary are married to women from Alabama. He and Rove ran George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1992. Bill Canary ran Bob Riley’s campaign for governor in 2002. Canary and Rove also previously tried to take over the Alabama Supreme Court. It was Canary’s wife, Leura Canary who served as prosecutor in my corruption trial.

5. Do you see connections between your prosecution and the 11 indictments handed down last year against public officials and others advocating for legalized gambling in Alabama?

The same people that were involved in indicting me are now involved in the current indictments targeting Alabama Democrats and other pro-gaming advocates.

6. Do you believe Bob Riley had any part in any of this?

No. Riley was not apart of any of this. He was selected because he would play along with the interests of outside casino money from Mississippi and Louisiana.

7. What issues do you feel need to be highlighted with regard to these indictments? Where should people be looking for the hands of extralegal and political influences in these indictments?

The question needs to be asked why an investigation wasn’t brought about looking at the corruption amongst those who opposed me and my efforts to bring the lottery into Alabama in order to provide a free education to all students in Alabama.

8. My observations of the state of Alabama are that a very small, wealthy minority exists at the top in a state that in many ways resembles a third world country. Education, civic engagement, and economic growth are all impeded for the sake of maintaining the social and political order that exists here in this state. Would you agree with this assessment?

It’s not that sinister. Although, the establishment in this state does not care to spend money to educate the poor.

9. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

1 comment:

KBJr. said...

It still amazes me that there are people out there who deem it a necessity to criminalize personal vice.

Ohio spent years fighting to legalize gambling (outside of the state lottery scheme) and just recently achieved this feat (despite having wasted so much time and lost revenue).

I've often heard that decriminalizing vice is somehow obstructing "morality", that it's an extreme notion. I say decriminalizing vice (gambling, drugs, prostitution, etc.) is adhering to the notion of freedom. Regardless of whether greater society "gets" anything from it (i.e. funding for education), and personal vice is just that, personal. The state need not be involved.

You had some pointed questions for the governor, and for the most part he was candid. I wish he would've fleshed his answers out a little, but that's the breaks.

What kind of corruption charges was he indicted on? What's he doing now? Does he ever see legalized gambling in Alabama's near future?