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Looking back at 2006’s top newsmakers

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Capitol Scene
MONTGOMERY—I think it is required that at the end of the year and the beginning of another that those of us in my trade take a look back at the past 12 months — the top stories, the off-beat stories and yes, the biggest newsmakers of the year.
That we had a few big newsmakers in Alabama in 2006 is not debatable.
Certainly Gov. Bob Riley made his share of the news. History will surely label him one of the biggest “Comeback Kids” in recent Alabama political history.
After his election as governor in 2002 (and I rank that victory as one of the biggest political upsets in my adult lifetime) Riley made what we all thought was a politically-fatal mistake: Proposition No. 1, a proposal which included many good features but one very unpopular one namely, a $1.2 billion tax increase.
To the surprise of no one it was overwhelmingly rejected and Riley's stock plunged to a record low. He was branded as a one-term governor for sure. Even his staunchest Republican supporters began looking for a new candidate for 2006.
But in a remarkable turnaround, Riley came back three years later to win a landslide victory in the Republican primary over ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. He followed that with another landslide win over Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley.
And speaking of Baxley, she too merits consideration for the top newsmaker of the year. The first woman ever elected lieutenant governor, she became only the second woman to win a major party nomination for governor by convincingly whipping former Gov. Don Siegelman in the Democratic primary.
Not all of the big newsmakers were in the political arena. Certainly fired University of Alabama head coach Mike Shula got more than his share of headlines, most especially his abrupt and unexpected-to-some firing a few weeks ago.
Shula's stock couldn't have been higher a year ago when he led the Crimson Tide to a 10-2 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. It was so high he got a pay raise and a contract extension.
But in Enron-like fashion his stock plummeted after a 6-6 regular season and his fourth consecutive loss to that “school down the road” (as Auburn was once dubbed by another Tide coach).
But as prominent as those three were in the headlines, my personal award for Alabama's “Newsmaker of the Year” goes to the aforementioned Don Siegelman.
His name appeared in more headlines, his face appeared on more TV news show, than perhaps all those others combined. He made news as a candidate for governor and as a defendant in federal court. He was also a convicted felon protesting his innocence.
His run for governor was doomed from the beginning. He was standing trial as the campaign unfolded. A man who had raised millions in two previous campaigns for governor was hard-put to raise enough money to keep gas in his car.
But he remained upbeat from the beginning, convinced he would not only win the nomination but would be cleared of all charges pending against him. He was wrong on both counts.
Siegelman brings to mind the old story of the little boy who eagerly dug through a pile of compost, certain there was a pony in there somewhere. If Siegelman is a member of a civic club, he surely must be an Optimist. It was, in some respects, a sad ending to one of the most remarkable political careers in Alabama history.
Siegelman can take some comfort in the knowledge that he holds one record which probably will never be broken: he was elected to more constitutional offices than any man in Alabama history: secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor.
Without question — at least in my mind — Don Siegelman was Alabama's top Newsmaker of 2006. And he may well compete for that award again in 2007.

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