Siegelman knew it was time

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Backing down has never been one of Gov. Don Siegelman’s traits, but his decision last week to step aside and call off his demand for a recount of the Nov. 5 election ballots was a wise political move.

Siegelman is one of the smartest, more forward-thinking politicians to come through our state government in decades. He learned the job on the job.

He made costly mistakes by trusting the wrong people early. He would not have made those mistakes again. It was that credibility issue that hurt him and his re-election bid the most.

His ability to react to change made him the closest thing to a New South governor

Alabama could ever hope for.

His decision to stop his request for a recount came after he counseled with family, friends and colleagues. His best advice may have come from Dr. David Bronner, head of the state’s employee and teacher retirement system.

Bronner suggested he fight his fight, and win or lose turn his efforts to working for the common good of the state.

Siegelman said he stopped his battle for the good of the state. He knows a long, drawn-out legal battle would do nothing more than separate the party lines further in Alabama.

He knew there are too many critical issues on the table that need to be dealt with. He knew a long fight would not resolve a permanent funding solution for education, land more jobs for our state or mend the political party lines that have held up this state for decades.

Siegelman is not done. He will be back. He only lost by 3,117 votes. He was on a path to the U.S. Senate some day. He still might be. He served the state as secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor, something no other person has ever achieved before him.

One more term as governor and his name would have next appeared on the ballot for U.S. senator.

His plans have been sidetracked for now, and the next four years he will have the opportunity to watch Bob Riley try to do what he has promised.

He knows the task for Riley, like him, is not and has not been an easy one.

Too many special interests control what happens in this state, especially in Montgomery. Riley will find that out because he is beholden to many in the form of some $11-plus million in campaign donations.

The ALFAs and the BCAs of this world do expect something in return for their investment. The special interests control the flow, like it or not.

How Riley handles the special interests will be his true test the next four years. If he can accomplish all he has promised &045; including fixing education funding problems &045; he will be around for four more years. If teacher layoffs and proration of the worst kind appear, the 600,000-plus people who voted for the other guy on Nov. 5 will return to the polls in four years and remind this Clay County son of the promises he did not keep.

For now, it’s Bob’s show. His transition team is in place searching for the state’s finest in their selected fields. The announcements of his cabinet will tell you a lot about his goals and his plans. A lot of political paybacks might be involved, but in the end the favors had better produce results.

While Siegelman goes out on a positive note, the 13-day battle for a simple recount is not something anyone will soon forget, as long as there are unanswered questions. Why did some 1,000 fewer people vote in the governor’s race in Clay County than they did in the other county races? Why did vote totals in more than 40 counties change before being certified? What really happened to those 7,000 votes in Baldwin County? Why was it done without the other party’s poll watchers?

It was a painful but smart decision for Siegelman. With legal battles looming, his decision was the right one for his political career and the people of Alabama.

Kim N. Price is publisher of The Outlook. He can be reached at 256-234-4281, ext.27. His e-mail address is