Debate full of fakes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

When I think of political debates, two come to mind … one from my musty old American history book and another from my personal memory bank.

My history book makes much of the celebrated Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates in the 1858 race for the U.S. Senate from Illinois.

Apparently Douglas prevailed in those debates because he won the Senate seat, however Lincoln had the last laugh: he beat Douglas in the 1860 race for President.

The other that comes to mind was the first-ever televised presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960.

Kennedy was the acknowledged winner in that confrontation, and he went on to win the election.

Last week’s face-off between Alabama gubernatorial candidates Don Siegelman and Bob Riley isn’t likely to be mentioned in the same breath as the two cited above.

At times both of them displayed moves that usually are used by running backs in football &045; hip fakes, eye fakes, whatever, to avoid answering tough questions.

When it was all over the consensus was that Riley had prevailed, if for no other reason than he had survived without being badly hurt.

Gov. Siegelman had gone into the debate the overwhelming favorite.

With his years of experience in politics and state government, with his training as a lawyer to be able to think on his feet, Siegelman was expected to eat Riley’s lunch.

He didn’t.

In fact, if anything, it was Siegelman who at times seemed ill at ease and unprepared.

And in what was the highlight (or lowlight) of the debate, on one occasion Siegelman lost his cool and began shouting at Riley.

Moderator Tim Lennox of

Alabama Public Television tried his best to restore order but with little success. There is nothing in the Associated Press Style Book (the bible for all journalists) that tells you how to tell a governor to shut up.

Ironically, had it not been for Siegelman’s insistence there might not have been a debate.

The first words out of his mouth on election night were a challenge to Riley to meet him one-on-one.

He wanted him bad &045; confident he could win easily.

Comes to mind the old saying: Be careful what you pray for … your prayers might be answered.

An interesting sidebar to this story: Prior to the debate, Riley was coached and encouraged by Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, the man he devastated in the GOP primary.

You can be certain


Siegelman did not receive similar support from his chief opponent in the Democratic Primary, Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bishop.

Still on the subject of the Siegelman-Riley campaign, the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) has broken precedent and endorsed Riley for governor. It is the first time in the BCA’s history that it has endorsed a candidate for governor.

In the past, the organization through its political action committee has contributed substantially to candidates for lieutenant governor, legislature and judicial races but stayed clear of the gubernatorial campaign.

The endorsement was hardly a surprise. Siegelman’s major issue in the campaign has been an attack on unnamed big corporations which he says have &uot;cooked their books&uot; to avoid paying taxes.

Mention was made in this space a week ago of the fuss created in the Montgomery area by a proposed occupational tax on those who work in this county. The Montgomery County Commission is expected to impose such a tax of 1.5 percent with proceeds earmarked for schools.

Residents who live outside the county have howled in protest (they make up about 30 percent of the workforce in Montgomery), and their political leaders have reacted to their opposition.

Rep. Jack Venable, D-Elmore, has said he will introduce legislation in 2003 to make such taxes unconstitutional. If he is successful, this could create serious financial problems for the several cities and one county which already collect an occupational tax