The Governor of Goat Hill: Don Siegelman, The Reporter who Exposed his Crimes, and the Hoax that Suckered some of the Top Names in Journalism
by Eddie Curran
Summary: Journalist Eddie Curran traces the rise and fall of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in The Governor of Goat Hill. It’s a terrific story of Siegelman’s corruption and his desperate attempt to escape punishment for his crimes.
Review: For decades, Alabama’s state government has labored under the long shadow cast by George Wallace’s actions during the Civil Rights era. But in 1998, that was all supposed to change. Democrat Don Siegelman was elected governor and he was supposed to be Alabama’s New South governor – our version of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way – but it did turn in to a terrific story.
Follow the Money
Siegelman bet his administration on a single initiative – a state-sponsored lottery that would fund improvements in education. Implementation of the lottery required Alabama’s voters to approve it in a referendum. Amidst the unified opposition of Alabama’s fundamentalist churches, the referendum failed. Siegelman publicly admitted that he had “no plan B” when the lottery failed to win approval. From that point forward, his administration went straight to hades.
The seeds of Siegelman’s destruction were contained in the lottery referendum. He lobbied those seeking business or influence with the state government to contribute funds to the campaign to pass the lottery. Richard Scrushy, the Birmingham businessman who was then head of the HealthSouth Corporation contributed $500,000 to the campaign in exchange for a position on a state board regulating health care.
Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran eventually uncovered this crime – and many other similar shady deals sponsored by the Siegelman administration. Curran’s account of the Siegelman administration’s crimes is amazing – it seems that everything in the state was for sale. One particularly-enjoyable section concerns Lanny Young – a Siegelman backer and lobbyist who committed multiple crimes on behalf of firms seeking to open landfills in Alabama.
Predictably, Curran’s stories angered and worried the Siegelman administration. Curran writes that the administration increasingly “stonewalled” his requests for documents relating to the scandals. Eventually, the situation came to a head and Curran repeatedly cursed a Siegelman staffer during a phone call. The Siegelman administration attempted to have Curran fired from the Register, but he kept his job.
The Trials & The Hoax
The Governor of Goat Hill has three threads – 1) the crimes, 2) the legal proceedings against Siegelman and his accomplices, and 3) Siegelman’s claim that his problems stemmed from the machinations of Karl Rove and the Republican party.
The first thread – which accounts for most of the book – is amazing, and makes the book well worth reading. The other threads should have been shortened by about half. (Also, the book has a fair number of typos).
The trials contained some interesting moments, as Siegelman and co-defendant Scrushy attempted to a) buy the support of Alabama’s black community through donations to churches and political leaders, b) suggest that the jurors were biased and failed to follow proper procedures, and c) attack the integrity of the judge. None of these tactics worked and both men were convicted.
Eventually, Siegelman and Scrushy alleged that they had been persecuted by Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Karl Rove, and several, other lesser-known Republicans. Interestingly, their story caught on and was featured on 60 Minutes, on Harper’s magazine’s blog, in Time magazine, and in the New York Times. Curran regards these journalists as chumps who bought a crooked politician’s lies.
Don Siegelman could have been a great one. But the failure of his lottery and his corruption combined to make him one more hack politician. At this writing, his appeals have largely been exhausted and – commentators assert – he faces a likely return to prison when he appears for re-sentencing (before federal judge Mark Fuller, whom he has repeatedly accused of corruption). For a variety of reasons, I would not want to be in Siegelman’s shoes. (Richard Scrushy just completed his prison sentence).
Curran should have cut about 100 pages from The Governor of Goat Hill. Nonetheless, it’s compelling and a must for anyone interested in Alabama politics, corruption, and the workings of the media.