By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama race for attorney general features a Republican incumbent coming off a season of personal tragedy versus the son of one of the state’s most prominent politicians, now stepping out of his famous father’s shadow.
Voters next week will choose between Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall and Democratic challenger Joe Siegelman, the son of former Gov. Don Siegelman.
Marshall, 54, is seeking to win the office after being appointed last year by then-Gov. Robert Bentley.
Marshall’s wife Bridgette died by suicide in June. As reporters inquired about the details of her death, Marshall made the decision to give an emotionally raw news conference describing his wife’s deeply personal struggles with depression and anxiety.
“Hardest year of my life,” Marshall said of the last few months.
Wearing an “Out of the Darkness” wristband from the campaign for suicide prevention, Marshall said he has been touched by the support he has gotten from people across the state, including those who share their own stories. He made the decision not to drop out of the race. His wife’s last love note to him encouraged him during the primary runoff.
“What has given me strength to get to this point is that Bridgette was my biggest fan and she believed unequivocally that I was the right person for this job,” he said.
Marshall, who was a district attorney for 16 years, said as attorney general he has tried to emphasize public safety, including passage of the Fair Justice Act to expedite death penalty appeals, and work with the governor to temporarily stop the early paroles of state inmates.
Marshall in May filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau seeking to block immigrants living in the country illegally from being included in 2020 U.S. Census counts that will determine how many congressional seats and electoral votes each state gets.
“We’re willing to fight for the state. If we don’t prevail, we are going to lose a congressional seat, we believe, so we’ve stood up for the people of Alabama,” Marshall said.
Siegelman, 30, said while people might be familiar with his last name, he wants them to get to know him.
Despite his lineage, Siegelman said he never aspired to a political career and said he “can’t stand” what politics has become. Siegelman said the office of attorney general should be independent.
“We’ve got to be about people, not politics,” Siegelman said. “My number one goal is to do the job of attorney general and take away any political grandstanding and especially any political agenda or even political consideration.”
Siegelman said his priorities as attorney general would include addressing the opioid crisis, consumer protection and school and public safety.
Siegelman said the attorney general’s office has been too slow to react to Alabama’s opioid crisis. Alabama in 2016 had the highest rate of prescriptions in the nation.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Siegelman has hammered at Marshall for his acceptance of $730,000 in “dark money” from the Republican Attorneys General Association. Siegelman contends the donations — run through multiple political action committees — both violate state campaign finance law and obscure Marshall’s funding sources.
Siegelman said that leaves people wondering, “Is he working for the people of Alabama or is he working for one of these special interests out of state that have given him this extraordinary amount of money.” Marshall and the GOP group have maintained the contributions are legal.
Growing up, the younger Siegelman said he didn’t realize the full scope of his father’s service and career until he was elected governor in 1998. Don Siegelman was one of the state’s most successful Democrats, holding four statewide offices. His career ended when he was convicted of federal funds bribery. The former governor has maintained his innocence.
After law school, Joe Siegelman joined the Cochran Firm practice, where his work included civil rights issues. He also joined his father’s legal team, occasionally speaking to the news media on his father’s behalf as the elder Siegelman fought to overturn the conviction.