The Vast Big Mule Conspiracy

By Gary Palmer

Words are important. Consequently, it is important to know the meaning of words, especially when it comes to politics.

There are two words in particular that Alabamians should know the meaning of before this year's elections: populist and demagogue. Webster's Dictionary defines the word populist as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people." One definition of demagogue, according to Webster’s is "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power."

Webster must have had Alabama politicians in mind when he came up with those definitions. 

In a speech reminiscent of George Wallace, embattled Gov. Don Siegelman used the State of the State address to hypocritically blame special interests groups and the Alabama Constitution for the failures of his administration over the last three years. Siegelman is trying to save his political career by doing what politicians do best--blaming someone else for their failures and claiming they are really courageous by serving the interest of the little guy. 

Alabama politicians may not have invented populist demagoguery, but they have nearly perfected it. For years they have tried to fool Alabama citizens by either casting blame on others for their failures or, if that doesn’t work, they try to distract people from the real issues. 

In that regard, Siegelman apparently believes that the people of Alabama can be fooled or distracted about the real problems confronting this state. Perhaps he believes he can convince the people of Alabama that all his administration's problems and ethical lapses--the fixed traffic tickets and unbid contracts-are really the fault of the "Big Mule" special interests that set him up and are out to get him. After all, Siegelman said these big special interests, whom he declined
to identify, will be trying in his words, "to stop Don Siegelman from being reelected." 

In other words, there is a "Vast Big Mule Conspiracy" out to get him.

Regardless of whether or not there is a "Vast Big Mule Conspiracy", there is no denying the influence of the big special interests groups in Montgomery. Through the years these groups have had tremendous influence over the Legislature and past governors. The Siegelman administration is no exception. The governor could have easily identified these groups in his speech, but the problem with naming names is that some of these "Big Mule" groups have been among Siegelman's biggest political contributors, most notably the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association and the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

Consequently, when Siegelman and some members of the State Legislature blame the "Big Mule" special interests for many of state government's problems, there really is a lot of truth in what they are saying. But the political problem with the governor or those members of the Legislature using the "Big Mules made us do it" excuse is that they rode some of those "Big Mules" into office. And there is no bigger mule in Montgomery than Paul Hubbert, head of the AEA. 

Hubbert's influence over the Siegelman administration has been so strong that a Birmingham News editorial referred to him as "Gov. Hubbert" during one of the special sessions last fall. And because there are as many as 40 or more legislators who are current or retired education employees, Hubbert has tremendous power, especially in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Since they have so much money to throw around, Hubbert and the other "Big Mules" will once again be carrying the big stick in the current legislative session and the next election. Therefore, if Siegelman were to succeed in getting a constitutional convention called, you can count on Hubbert and the other rich special interests groups to figure out a way to control it. 

Does this mean that the people of Alabama should give up on reforming the state constitution? Absolutely not. What it means is that the people of Alabama should recognize that the constitution is not the biggest problem in Montgomery. The biggest problem in Montgomery is the incompetent and corrupt politicians in both political parties that are so easily controlled by the special interests.

Reforming or replacing the state's constitution without reforming or replacing those responsible for enacting its provisions will be a colossal waste of time. A new constitution will not give us better government nor will it by itself get rid of the populist demagogues. Gov. Siegelman and others in state government will continue to whine about the big special interests and they will shamelessly request the maximum campaign contributions from these groups, while cleverly attempting to conceal this fact from voters.

Obviously, this is shameless. But shame is rare in Montgomery so don't expect that to slow them down. They will just resort to what they do best, blame others and continue to be populist demagogues. After all, they are fighting for the children of Alabama against the "Vast Big Mule Conspiracy."

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Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society. 

January 15, 2002

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