Alabama ousts governor, a Christian right advocate

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Christian right was dealt a setback as Alabama voters ousted Gov. Fob James during Tuesday's election.

James was defeated by Lt Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, 58 percent to 42 percent. The race was closely watched by conservative Christian groups because of James' outspoken views on church-state issues.

Those views received little debate during the campaign, because Siegelman quickly and relentlessly latched onto one popular issue — a state lottery for education — quashing discussion of other issues.

During James' term, he vocally defended a county judge who had Christian clergy open court sessions with prayers, and who displayed the Ten Commandments in the courtroom as a sign of his personal commitment to God. Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, but the case was thrown out on a technicality.

James even threatened to call out the National Guard if anyone — short of President Clinton — tried to remove the tablets from the courtroom.

James also railed against a ruling barring school-sponsored religious activity in DeKalb County, stating the ruling did not apply to other counties and that the Bill of Rights was not applicable to state governments.

He said repeatedly that freedom of religion meant that teachers and coaches should be free to pray with students whenever and wherever they like.

James also danced like a monkey at a state school board meeting to lampoon the teaching of evolution.

These stances earned him little support in the state's small Jewish community.

Siegelman's victory gives Alabama a Jewish First Lady. Siegelman, who is Catholic, is married to the former Lori Allen, who grew up in Birmingham.

The Siegelmans have two children, and attend Montgomery's Agudath Israel, a Conservative congregation. Dana Siegelman celebrated her bat mitzvah in February.

Lori Siegelman shies away from the public spotlight, but was the inspiration for strong drunk-driving laws after she was seriously injured 14 years ago by a drunk driver while her husband was secretary of state.

As for James, he and his wife, Bobbie, also were known as passionate Christian Zionists.

At the 1995 inauguration, a rabbi from Jerusalem blew the shofar and recited the Ten Commandments, another personal friend from Israel gave an invocation entirely in Hebrew, and the governor's cousin sang "Hatikvah" accompanied by the Montgomery Symphony.

Bobbie James has traveled to Israel over 20 times, including a Sukkot trip in 1994 to pray for the election. She has stated that Alabama's $900 million oil lease windfall in 1981, during her husband's first term, was a direct result of the Israel Independence Day celebration at the Executive Mansion a few weeks earlier — God was blessing those that blessed Israel.

When James led a trade mission to Israel last year — as have many governors nationally, including Alabama's neighbors — local media dismissed it as another religious junket for James. The mission, nevertheless, was seen as successful, especially with high-tech and defense companies.