Siegelman bashed over lottery comments

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

BNI Newswire

Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Windom took aim at Gov. Don Siegelman for not ruling out another vote on the lottery if he wins a second term.

The October 1999 statewide referendum to raise scholarship money through a lottery was defeated. Some political analysts across the state have said the idea, which was central to Siegelman’s 1998 election campaign, hurt the new governor’s clout.

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The plan would have raised $150 million for scholarships and other educational needs.

Kicking off his Democratic re-election campaign Tuesday with a series of press conferences, Siegelman responded to a question saying he had not ruled out another try for the lottery during a second term.

"If you’re asking me if I’m for a lottery, absolutely," Siegelman told WTVM (Channel 13) in Birmingham. The statement was reprinted in Thursday’s Birmingham News.

"I was for one since 1990. The fact that I’m for an education lottery certainly shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But what should come as a shocker is my opponents, my political opponents who killed the education lottery – just dropped the ball when the lottery was defeated."

Rip Andrews, Siegelman’s spokesman, told the News Siegelman has no specific plan to revive the lottery at this time, but that a long campaign was still ahead.

"There is no reason to start ruling things out," Andrews said, adding opponents say Siegelman has provided no money for education when the governor stumped the state trying to pass the lottery for education.

Windom, who fought the lottery in 1999, said Siegelman is grasping for straws to save his administration.

"The people spoke with a clear voice about his corruption-filled lottery scheme. The people took a long, hard look at it and decided that it would do far more damage than any perceived help it could bring. And they were right.

"Once the lottery scheme failed, the Siegelman administration has had no plan. The top priority has been giving out no-bid contracts to political friends instead of improving schools," Windom said.

Windom noted Republicans offered the Alabama Scholarship Assistance Program, he said would have given scholarships to above-average students with below-average means. "Don Siegelman and his legislative team killed it two years in a row," he said.

But Windom’s criticism comes in the same week that he and fellow GOP hopeful Bob Riley have been hit with accusations they or their associates took money from a company involved in gambling ventures. According to The Associated Press, Lt. Gov. Windom’s law firm received legal fees from Paragon Gaming, which works to develop gambling on Indian reservations but has yet to open a casino. Windom told AP the firm represented Paragon but he was not involved in any business with them.

Riley, who currently represents the third Congressional district, this week returned a $10,000 campaign contribution from Paragon. Riley said he did not know of the company’s ties to gaming.

A spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James said he was not surprised by the statements.

"It’s not surprising. The lottery and constitutional reform are similar issues," said campaign manager Mike Shields. "They never quit. They sell these as a panacea, as a solution to all our problems."

James is not only against the lottery, but favors a "rollback of existing gambling in the state," Shields said.

Republicans should hope Siegelman runs on the lottery, as it "will be a sure fire way to beat him in November," he said. A spokesman for Republican candidate Bob Riley could not be reached for comment.