Bentley's plan is to use a lottery to shore up the state's hemorrhaging general-fund budget, pummeled by Medicaid costs. That makes it starkly different from the education lottery Siegelman proposed in the late 1990s. That lottery failed at the polls, largely because "conservatives" like Bentley were against it.
The irony of that is not lost on Siegelman, who released a statement yesterday about the new lottery plan -- from a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, where he still resides because of perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. In fact, the ugly politics behind the "bribery" charges against Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy largely grew from Siegelman's efforts to establish an education lottery in Alabama.
How does Siegelman compare today's lottery to the one that failed in 1999? Well, his words seem filled with a touch of anger, sarcasm, even bitterness -- all of which is easy to understand. Siegelman notes that many politicos now pushing for a lottery railed against one that a Democrat proposed 17 years ago:
So now some of these same people who fought the lottery in 1999, whose greed or lust for power cheated our children out of a better life, want Alabama voters to bail them out.
How big a hypocrite is Bentley? Siegelman pulls no punches:
Governor Bentley, a staunch Baptist, once joined the loud “Christian” refrain opposing a lottery as a sin, immoral, something so wicked it would surely usher in prostitution, muggings, robberies and create a wave of gambling addiction. These were the arguments used by opponents to defeat the “Education Lottery” referendum in 1999.
I went directly to the largest gathering of many faiths, mostly Baptist and listened to their holy proclamations about the lottery being “immoral”. I stood and answered: ‘I’ll tell you what I think is immoral. I think immoral for children because of the color of their skin or where they were born or to whom, not to be able to reach their god-given potential because they can’t get a quality education.
I had been asking the people of Alabama to establish a lottery since 1989. Over and over I pleaded “Every child, regardless of where they are born or to whom, deserve the right to quality education and every child should have the hope and dream of knowing that if they make their grades and stay out of trouble, they’ll be able to go to college free.
Siegelman's education lottery appeared to enjoy widespread support. After all, he was elected while running on an education-lottery platform, one that offered greatly enhanced learning opportunities for Alabama students:
In 1998 I was elected Governor again calling for an “Education Lottery,” a Georgia style lottery with 100% of the proceeds going into the “Alabama Education Trust Fund”.
First, the “Alabama Education Lottery” would have provided free higher education for every high school graduate, tuition free college, community colleges, or trade schools free.
Secondly, the Alabama Education Lottery would provide free preschool, relieving working mothers of the worry and expense of day care, knowing at the end of the day their child would be better prepared to read, write, and get along with other children before they entered the first grade.
Finally, the Alabama Education Lottery would provide technology to put the world’s knowledge at the fingertips of every child, to assist teachers in accessing lectures by the brightest instructors in the world on every conceivable subject. For rural Alabama which lacks the tax resources and ability to raise needed education dollars, technology would be ‘the great equalizer’, bringing the best educational resources, lectures, free college classes from the best colleges and universities in the world to every child in every part of the state.
Supporters were confronted with a groundswell of "Christian" opposition, driven largely by some of the slimiest characters in the history of American politics. Writes Siegelman:
In order to get this constitutional amendment establishing the “Education Lottery” passed, I had to raise money for television, radio and newspaper advertising and money to get out the vote. Unknown at the time, Karl Rove’s confidante, Ralph Reed, President of the “‘Christian Coalition’, lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, who had worked for my opponent, Bob Riley, and the Mississippi Choctaw Indian casinos had engaged in a money laundering scheme to funnel up to $20,000,000 from the Indian casinos into Alabama to defeat me, to defeat the lottery, to defeat other gaming proposals. (See “Capitol Punishment”, by Abramoff, PP 184-189)
The opposition, funded by the Mississippi casinos, ran a smothering barrage of TV ads portraying corrupt politicians with cash stacked high like gangsters, ending their ads with:
“Maybe a lottery, but not this lottery.”
(To be continued)