Former Gov. Don Siegelman wants Alabama to have a lottery, just as he's argued since first running for governor in 1990, and he promises to fight for it if elected to another term in the state's top job.
Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley says she's not necessarily against a the idea but told the Mobile Register she would neither push for a lottery herself nor block another public referendum on someone else's proposal.
Baxley said it would be "a shame" for Alabama to depend on a lottery for revenue but added that she senses broad public support for the idea. And she predicted that the Legislature will grapple seriously with the issue as early as the next regular session, which begins in January.
Siegelman and Baxley have both announced campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the June 6 primary. The winner would likely face either Republican Gov. Bob Riley or ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in the November general election.
As governor, Baxley said she would use her power to see that any proposed lottery system is transparent, fraud free and spends proceeds on programs the public wants, particularly education.
"The governor cannot give the people a lottery," Baxley said. "That decision still rests with the duly authorized voting representatives of the people who are sent to the Senate and the House, and then the people will decide themselves."
Baxley's and Siegelman's lottery viewpoints preview what could become a defining issue in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor.
The debate also offers a glimpse at each candidate's strategy for framing the other on the campaign trail: Siegelman casting Baxley as weak and indecisive, with Baxley alluding to Siegelman's legal troubles and arguing that he's ethically challenged and untrustworthy.
Consider their comments about each other in separate interviews about the lottery.
Siegelman on Baxley: "She keeps changing her mind. She was morally opposed to it at the last election, and now she says what?"
And this: "The people are never going to have the lottery unless the governor gets behind it. The governor has to get behind anything. ... It isn't going to happen unless you have strong leadership."
Baxley, in turn, argued that Siegelman's last lottery proposal, which voters panned in 1999, was rife with potential for shenanigans, and she mentioned the former governor's ongoing legal troubles (he awaits trial on federal corruption charges) as part of her analysis.
"Let me just say this: I feel that any proposal that comes forward has to be more clearly defined in every area" than was Siegelman's 1999 proposition, she said. "It was more: 'You just authorize a lottery and leave it up to us as to how it will be run.'"
As for Siegelman's assertion that she's indecisive, Baxley said, "Because they know me, the people will not let Don Siegelman cast me in some negative, unfair light. ... I am perfectly comfortable with me and him putting our careers and our ideas out on the table and seeing how we measure up. There has never been a hint of me using my job for personal gain or any accusation of impropriety about the way I handle the people's business."
Siegelman anchored his first year in office in 1999 on the lottery proposal. In the first regular session of that year, he convinced lawmakers to approve a public referendum that would reverse a constitutional ban on a lottery.
The Legislature also adopted "enabling legislation," spelling out how the lottery would work and how it would be run by a newly created lottery commission. That legislation would have become law had voters approved the referendum in an October special election
Siegelman's plan, modeled in part after Georgia's lottery system, called for proceeds to finance a pre-kindergarten program, technology for K-12 schools and higher education scholarships.
Opponents keyed on details of the enabling legislation to overcome broad support for the idea of a lottery. The most effective television ads said, "Not this lottery."
Some political advisers argued at the time that Siegelman should have pushed only a referendum on legalizing a lottery, then gone back to lawmakers after the vote to pass a specific plan. They also said the proposal would have been more likely to pass in a general election rather than a special referendum that allowed lottery opponents to isolate the issue.
Resurrecting some of the criticisms from 1999, Baxley said it was not clear that Siegelman's lottery commission, which would have been a semi-public, semi-private entity, would be subject to the state's open meetings and open records laws.
She said she would support only a "totally transparent body. ... If some portion of it is handled through the private sector, I would insist that there would still be full disclosure for people to know exactly how decisions are being made and where money is being spent."
As for how to spend lottery proceeds, she predicted "a scramble for it when legislation is introduced." Baxley said the public would likely demand that proceeds go to education, but she expressed some discomfort with dedicating the money too specifically by law.
"I don't know about (earmarking down to the) programmatic level," she said. "I want to trust the leaders in each area of education to decide the needs of specific programs, but I think it should be clearly defined."
Siegelman expressed regret over scheduling a special referendum in 1999. He said any future vote would be held in the mid-term general election (presidential election years in Alabama). He said he did not think passing enabling legislation before or after the referendum would matter.
He also said a lottery would have a better chance following recent disclosures that Indian gaming interests from outside Alabama helped funnel money to the Christian Coalition of Alabama and other groups that opposed the lottery in 1999.
The Coalition has denied knowledge that the money came from tribal funds.
"This time we can have an honest debate about the issues, instead of having Indian gambling money flowing in to defeat an education lottery for our children," Siegelman said.
He said any lottery he proposes would finance a statewide college scholarship program. He has not prepared further details, he said, about which other programs he would seek to fund with the money.
William Stewart, a University of Alabama political scientist, said Siegelman is smart in pursuing gambling as a top issue in the Democratic primary. Black voters, who overwhelmingly support the idea of a lottery, make up a substantial portion of the Democratic electorate and have typically showed strong support for Siegelman in his previous races.
Baxley, meanwhile, is seeking to crack some of that support while maintaining her broad appeal among conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans who are more likely to oppose gambling. "That makes this is a dicey issue for her," Stewart said, adding that "she risks alienating African-American voters or potential crossover voters either way.
"It's a real conundrum. She's going to say 'let the people decide,' but she's got to find a way to do that without seeming too wishy-washy and still show that she's willing to give the people another chance to vote."