Siegelman has no regrets as he prepares to leave office

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

For Don Siegelman, public office has been a way of life for most of his life. From secretary of state and attorney general to lieutenant governor and governor, Siegelman has seen every level of state government and in most cases – been in charge of it.

But he is nearing the end of his public service. On Monday, Jan. 20, Siegelman will see his opponent sworn in as the next governor of Alabama – a position he longed to hold for four more years.

"I have absolutely no regrets," Siegelman said. "I was given a great opportunity for many years to help the people of Alabama – that was a wonderful gift."

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The conclusion of Siegelman's more recent political season did not end as he had planned. He had hoped to defeat Bob Riley and be the first Alabama governor since George Wallace to serve two consecutive terms.

The race was the closest in Alabama history, coming down to a mere 3,000 votes. But in a style befitting his career, he simply stepped aside rather than contest the election and draw the state through a drawn-out legal battle.

"The process would have gone on four months," Siegelman said of contesting the election, which was reportedly marred by voting irregularities in a number of counties across Alabama. "That's something the state of Alabama did not deserve."

Siegelman did not concede the election on Nov. 5, instead he explored his options and then shocked the state with a concession speech televised live across most news stations.

"Giving that speech really wasn't that painful at that point," Siegelman recalled. "We were seeing the process extending and extending to the point that CNN was talking of televising the House and Senate debates and votes on governor if had gone that far.

"We had even heard of supporters holding hands and forming a ring around the capitol to prevent the votes from being certified."

Soon after his concession, many speculated on Siegelman's political future, a future he admits is not written.

"I don't have any political aspirations at this point," he admitted. "All of my focus was to get re-elected so that I could continue with our work. To be honest, I haven't even thought about my political future."

Although he will not hold an elected office, he does admit he will be an avid observer of the Riley administration.

"I'll be paying attention. There are still some crucial issues that need to be addressed," Siegelman said. "Education funding is critical and needs to be addressed. One of the best ways we saw was to change the state's tax structure, which would mean changing the constitution, but I don't see those constitutional changes being made by a constitutional convention because of Gov.-elect Riley's opposition to that idea."

While Siegelman does have advice for the next administration, he hopes they will continue the work of recruiting top industries to Alabama.

"I hope Gov.-elect Riley's administration will continue the work we have started and work as hard as we have – I am sure they will," he said.

As for one bit advice for the new governor, Siegelman suggests Riley does not delegate.

"There's a saying I have on my desk that says 'The Buck Starts Here.' Everyone already knows that the "buck stops here" and the governor is responsible for everything that goes on in their administration – but the governor has the opportunity to start things in this office," he said. "They have the opportunity to seek new jobs, begin new programs, help children. Delegating responsibility only ensures the status quo."

In looking back on the campaign and the previous year, Siegelman says there were a number of factors that led to his defeat.

"There are always things when you look back and question and wonder if you would change or look back and wonder if you did everything possible," Siegelman said. "I think the latest economic disaster on the national front really changed the political landscape – which hurt."

As for the future political landscape for Alabama, Siegelman predicts State Rep. Seth Hammett, speaker of the House from Andalusia, know stands as the next Democratic candidate for governor.

"I think he does run for governor in four years. He has always been supportive of my efforts and a friend of mine," Siegelman said. "I have nothing but good things to say about the Speaker."

Siegelman, contrary to many political experts, does not believe Lucy Baxley's political career will stop at the lieutenant governor's office.

"She has a bright future and has already been rumored to be a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate in two years," Siegelman said. "The sky is the limit for her. Nothing should stop her from seeking whatever office she wants."

But for now, Siegelman

seems set to spend time with his family – a family who has put him and his political career first.

"This has given me the chance to spend more time with my family. It's time to focus on my wife and kids," he said. "I will make sure there is a smooth transition for Gov.-elect Riley and his staff – But, I will be watching."