The Peculiar Election of Alabama Governor Bob Riley
The election of Bob Riley was not your typical run for Governor. It was considerably more important to the Republican party than it appeared on the surface. It had an unusually deep and seasoned Republican Campaign infrastructure behind it. Karl Rove was pulling strings from the White House and Abramoff was raising millions of dollars in gambling money from the Mississippi Choctaws. This money was laundered into the campaign coffers of Bob Riley through the Abramoff machine to hide its source in out-of-state gambling from the Alabama voters. This machine included old cohorts and College Republicans, Ralph Reed working the churches and Grover Norquist setting up anti-tax front organizations.
First: Unusually Heavy Involvement from the D.C. Beltway
Bob Riley’s run for Alabama Governor against the popular democratic incumbent, Don Siegelman, was financed and run by a Washington D.C. based network of powerful lobbyists and heavy-hitting Republican activists who wanted Alabama wholly owned by the GOP. Some believe that the extra attention was called for because of the formidable stumbling block, the unbeatable Don Siegelman.
Two Degrees of Separation
But there are other theories as to why Riley warranted this kind of special attention. Some say that the members of the D.C. Republican cabal were already Riley’s old friends. Riley had been elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996, 2 years after Canary brought Rove to Alabama to convert the state Supreme Court to a Republican bench. While Riley was a congressman in DC, his press secretary was Mike Scanlon, who was working with Abramoff during Riley’s run for Governor. So both Rove and Abramoff were only 2 degrees of separation, if not closer, to Bob Riley.
According to Bob Ney in a radio interview with Peter Collins, Karl Rove tapped Abramoff to raise money for the Republican governor’s race against Siegelman, and Abramoff infamously turned to the Mississippi Choctaw to pour $20M into the Alabama gubernatorial race.
When Bob Riley beat Windom in the primary, Bill Canary – who was Windom’s campaign adviser – changed horses, offering Riley his services. Canary told Riley that he would not have to raise any campaign money – Abramoff had that covered. Abramoff would not only raise the money, but his triumvirate (Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist) created the front groups that laundered the Choctaw gambling money into the Riley campaign. The terms of the agreement were that Riley must keep gambling businesses out of Alabama, a quid pro quo agreement made in exchange for the Mississippi Choctaw millions in illegal campaign contributions.
Politicos speculated that Canary planned to run Bob Riley all along, since his campaign tactics with Windom were peculiar. Typically, during the primary the candidates attack the other primary candidates, but Windom attacked Don Siegelman, his potential democratic opponent. This unusual approach allowed Riley to take the high road while benefiting from the negative publicity Windom generated toward Siegelman.
Second: Highly Questionable 2002 Election Results
With the scorch of corruption allegations flaming Siegelman, his popularity waned. Despite these problems, he did win the Governor’s race, but by a hair. The major news outlets called the election for Siegelman, then things got strange. The Alabama election started to remind one of the recently contested Bush/Gore election in Florida. An unsupervised correction made to a computer glitch after everyone had gone home for the day, switched the victory to Riley by a few thousand votes. The razor thin win was rife with reports of questionable manipulation. With a margin of less than 1%, a recount was a reasonable next step. However, a request for a vote recount was forbidden by the Attorney General, William Pryor, upon threat of imprisonment.
Accomplishments as Governor
Bob Riley – a Baptist Sunday School teacher – ran on a moral integrity platform while subjecting the Alabama Governor’s office to new levels of corruption. His actions as Governor seemed to put the welfare of himself and his family (especially his son, Rob) over the welfare of the state that he was elected to serve.
The third Republican Governor to be elected in Alabama, he excelled in overseeing the most executions since the mid-80’s and the largest unemployment in 25 years.