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Former 'Bama Governor Goes from Trial to Trail

During a stop in Clanton, Ala., Don Siegelman (right) talks with Earnest Mitchell of Selma, Ala. Mitchell had traveled to Clanton to watch a softball game.
Kathy Lohr, NPR
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During a stop in Clanton, Ala., Don Siegelman (right) talks with Earnest Mitchell of Selma, Ala. Mitchell had traveled to Clanton to watch a softball game.
At the kickoff of her wiregrass tour, Alabama Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley celebrates with the Ashford, Ala., high school band.  The band welcomed Baxley to town by playing their fight song.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
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At the kickoff of her wiregrass tour, Alabama Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley celebrates with the Ashford, Ala., high school band. The band welcomed Baxley to town by playing their fight song.
Roy Moore leaves a news conference at the Alabama State Judicial building in 2003 in Montgomery, Ala. The former "Ten Commandments" judge is challenging Gov. Bob Riley in the Republican primary.
Gary Tramontina / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Roy Moore leaves a news conference at the Alabama State Judicial building in 2003 in Montgomery, Ala. The former "Ten Commandments" judge is challenging Gov. Bob Riley in the Republican primary.

Don Siegelman is working as hard as possible to win the Alabama governorship, a job he lost four years ago. First, he has to get past a tough opponent, Lucy Baxley, in the June 6 Democratic primary. And there's one other thing: He is currently under indictment in a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation.

Siegelman is quick to tell you that he's innocent of the 34 counts in the indictment against him. He says the case is politically motivated.

"The timing of this indictment, and this trial, has been designed to have the greatest political impact, and do the greatest political damage," Siegelman said.

The rolling hills of Chilton County, Ala., are a Republican stronghold. That doesn't stop Siegelman from parking his slick black campaign bus in the town of Clanton. Voters interviewed there say they intend to vote for Republican Governor Bob Riley, who narrowly unseated Siegelman four years ago. Siegelman shrugs the competition off.

"They should be my voters," Siegelman said. "But a lot of 'em think they are Republicans, and it's up to me to change their minds.

Before he can attempt to convert Riley voters, Siegelman is going to have to win the Democratic nomination. And that’s not going to be easy.

Democrat Lucy Baxley is also running for governor. She is the state's lieutenant governor, and she's hoping to move up.

Baxley's campaign stopped recently in the tiny town of Ashford, Ala. It's in the far southeast corner of the state, not far from the farm where she grew up. About 200 people -- and the high school band -- come out to greet Baxley in Ashford. She has a hug for nearly everyone who meets her at the train depot.

Baxley is trying to make history. While it's true that George Wallace's wife, Lurleen, was elected the state's first female governor in 1966, she was considered a stand-in for her husband. He was barred from seeking re-election that year. Baxley is trying to win this election on her own.

Baxley was State Treasurer for eight years before she was elected lieutenant governor in 2002. She was also a successful realtor in Birmingham. Bill Baxley, her former husband, was the state Attorney General and served his own time as lieutenant governor.

With her nearly universal appeal, auburn hair and campaign slogan -- "I Love Lucy" -- she says she's the only candidate who has the ability to work with politicians in both parties.

"Regardless of who's Governor, and how grand your ideas are, you can only be as successful as as the coalition you can form to get legislators to work with you," Baxley said. "Those relationships are going to be very valuable to me."

One of the issues Baxley is running on is character. That may be an indirect swipe at Siegelman, but Baxley does not say anything overtly negative about him. And Siegelman says virtually nothing about her.

Siegelman hopes he's made some inroads around the state. In places like Clanton, he's reminding folks that he brought five auto plants to the state, and the industries that came with them. He also says he'll continue to fight the bribery and fraud charges against him.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.
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