Public officials go to jail
Published 3:09 am Wednesday, July 18, 2007
It seems like the saying “thank God for Mississippi” has been around most of my life. This adage referred to our perennial status on most economic barometers and rankings as 49th but Mississippi was always last or 50th. We have progressed significantly economically over the past decade. Most charts put us around 40th. We are no longer next to the bottom and are likely in the middle of the pack in comparison to our sister southern states.
The dubious honor of being the most corrupt state in America belongs to Louisiana. No state in the nation can hold a candle to the sordid open chicanery practiced in that state. It is so crooked that most third world countries cannot compete. They are the kings of corruption and they are proud of it. Their politicians openly boast of being on the take. They make kings of Huey Long and Edwin Edwards and make them revered legends.
However, the sad reality is that in the past two decades on paper we have probably surpassed the Cajuns in public officials going to jail. Ironically we are supposedly not trying to be number one nor are proud of it the way they are in Louisiana. They relish the fact that one of their congressmen was recently caught taking a $100,000 bribe and stashing the cash in his congressional office refrigerator. They laugh about U.S. Rep. Jefferson giving new meaning to the phrase “cold cash.” However, they have had only one governor convicted in the last 15 years. With the recent conviction of Don Siegelman we have had two, Siegelman and Guy Hunt.
Emotions are mixed about Siegelman's sentencing. Siegelman and his partner in crime, Richard Scrushy, received fairly stiff sentences. Each got about seven years in federal prison. In comparison, Hunt never had to serve time in prison.
The conviction of Siegelman and Scrushy centered around Scrushy giving the campaign for a lottery $500,000 in return for Scrushy getting a seat on the board that approves hospitals and nursing home beds in Alabama. It is questionable as to whether that is actually a crime or just plain politics. In most political science courses it is taught as a practical fact that throughout the history of our country presidents have rewarded their largest campaign contributors with ambassadorships to France, England, or exotic capitals around the world.
However, Siegelman never benefited financially. His campaign for governor did not even get the contribution. The contribution he was convicted of went to a campaign to pass a lottery for education in Alabama.
It has long been my contention that Siegelman was convicted because the federal prosecutors in Montgomery strategically tied Siegelman to Scrushy. In other words, Siegelman went down because of the infamous Richard Scrushy.
It did not help either side that they tried to play the race card in the trial. The jurors, both black and white, saw through the scheme and it further infuriated them.
Steve Flowers is political columnist who served 16 years in the state Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.