Timing couldn’t be worse for Siegelman

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

MONTGOMERY&045; The other shoe has dropped, as that old expression goes … a

federal grand jury has returned a laundry list of indictments against former Gov. Don Siegelman and the timing for him could not

have been worse.

Siegelman has already made it official, he will seek a second term as governor in the Democratic Primary next June, and after the indictments were announced he reiterated his intentions to stay in the race.

The question provoked by the indictments was a predictable

one: What impact will they have on his candidacy?

Certainly the most obvious is the dampening effect it will have on his fund-raising, and he will need millions of dollars to wage a serious campaign for the office.

As long as these indictments are hanging over his head, Siegelman will surely be hard-pressed to raise the money he needs. The people and the PACs who finance the campaigns are understandably going to be uneasy giving big bucks to a candidate who if convicted would not be eligible to run.

And that leads to a second question: How long will it be before Siegelman stands trial?

Fairness demands that the federal prosecutors…who took an endless amount of time in investigating Siegelman and the others who were indicted…move at a much quicker pace in bringing him to trial. The old truth that justice delayed is justice denied has never been more applicable.

While the indictments came as no surprise, what was a surprise was that only four men were charged – Siegelman, former Health South CEO Richard Scrushy; and two of Siegelman’s onetime Cabinet members, Paul Hamrick and Mack Roberts. Rumors had abounded that as many as eight or ten men would be indicted.

An intriguing sidebar to the Scrushy indictment: A political insider I greatly respect said that putting Siegelman and Scrushy in the same political bed, so to speak, will further enhance Siegelman’s standing with the black voters in Alabama. Scrushy is much admired by the black community of this state.

Siegelman has made no secret of the fact that he expects the Democratic Primary will include an overwhelming turnout of black voters and he is confident he has a much strong call on them as does his opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley.

Certainly nothing is more critical than the outcome of the trial, whenever that comes. Obviously if Siegelman is found guilty his political career will be over. The crimes he is accused of committing are felonies and if convicted he would be barred from running.

However, if he is acquitted or the charges are dismissed … as was the case in earlier allegations by a federal grand jury … his claim that the long-running investigation was a politically inspired witch hunt could resonate well with the voters.

Bob Ingram has covered Alabama politics for more than 50 years