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Small things can lead to big trouble

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–Big Jim Folsom probably taught me as much about politics as any of the dozens of politicians I have known.
He may be remembered by many of you as a political buffoon, a man who ran for governor every time there was a race…and he did indeed do that…but in his prime he was a master of his trade.
One bit of political advice he shared with me was that it was the little things in politics that would kill you, not the big things.
There were all manner of major scandals in his two gubernatorial administrations…liquor contracts, bond issues, pardon-parole scandals…all involving millions of dollars. He survived them all with few scars.
But as he later told me, it was stories about his grocery bill at the Mansion, his invitation to a Black congressman to have a drink with him at the Mansion….that did him irreparable political damage.
Why was this so, I asked him?
"Because the folks can understand things like that, they can relate to things like that."
Former Gov. Don Siegelman may find out the hard way the truth of Gov. Folsom's political observations.
A variety of allegations have been made about Siegelman in recent months involving health care contracts, landfill contracts, construction contracts. Millions of dollars are involved in these deals.
But what may be most damaging to Siegelman are charges that he accepted gifts which by comparison represent a paltry sum of money.
Allegedly a supporter bought him a motorcycle, a four-wheeler and a trailer for it–all of which cost less than $15,000. In addition he was given several guns valued at about $2,000. That is something the voters can relate to….it is a perfect example of Big Jim's rule.
Siegelman through his attorneys has not denied receiving the gifts but contends they were "gifts to the state" and that they were included in the state property inventory when he left office. Just what that means is not clear but what is known is that the vehicles were registered in his name.
The former governor got no help from Ethics Commissioner Jim Sumner, who said such gifts were a clear violation of the law.
He quoted the statute which states that no public official can accept a "thing of value" except what are called "seasonal gifts" and they cannot be valued at more than $100. That would allow a public official to accept perhaps a turkey or baked ham at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but no more.
Gov. Bob Riley picked Graddick to fill the vacancy caused by the recent death of Judge Bill McDermott.
In 1986 Graddick came from behind in the run-off to defeat Bill Baxley for the Democratic nomination for governor. However, the State Democratic Executive Committee voided Graddick's nomination because he had openly solicited Republican "cross over" votes in the run-off.
Instead the committee handpicked Baxley as the nominee and he was crushed in the November general election by Republican Guy Hunt, the first of his party to be elected governor since Reconstruction. Republicans have since won three of the last four gubernatorial elections.
An aide for Siegelman said he planned to spend three days at the convention. It is not known if he will have floor privileges since he is not a delegate but it seems like he will be extended that courtesy because of his long support for the national party.
Siegelman has been hyper-active in National Democratic Party affairs since chairing George McGovern's presidential campaign in Alabama in 1972. He was the first governor in the nation to endorse Al Gore for President in 2000.

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