- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Republican challenger in Alabama's race for governor is accusing the Democratic incumbent of taking advantage of National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston to secure a "suspicious" endorsement from the 77-year-old actor, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
The endorsement of scandal-plagued Gov. Donald Siegelman occurred while Mr. Heston was visiting Alabama to campaign for Republicans.
However, Mr. Heston's spokesman yesterday defended the conservative activist's endorsement of Mr. Siegelman over Republican challenger Rep. Bob Riley, saying it is a de facto endorsement by the NRA.
"I know I speak for countless firearm owners and sportsmen when I say that your commitment, dedication, and leadership on our issues is greatly appreciated," Mr. Heston said in a letter to Mr. Siegelman.
Mr. Siegelman is the target of an ongoing federal probe into his personal finances and his administration's awards of no-bid contracts.
Since 1999, the governor's scandals have been the subject of more than 100 articles by the Alabama press, on issues including traffic-ticket fixing for staff and lucrative state deals given to friends.
Heston spokesman Bill Powell said he was not aware the Siegelman administration was under investigation but said, "Mr. Heston's support is based on the governor's record" on Second Amendment rights.
Andrew Arulanandam, NRA spokesman, said the gun rights group has an incumbent-retention policy in its bylaws. If two candidates both get an "A" rating, the incumbent is endorsed.
"We make our determination based solely on Second Amendment issues," Mr. Arulanandam said. "We believe that whatever other issues are out there, legal matters, that is for the governor to discuss, and anything that needs to come to light will come to light."
The endorsement letter was printed on Mr. Heston's personal letterhead and was given to the governor during a meeting Thursday.
Rip Andrews, Mr. Siegelman's campaign spokesman, said the campaign arranged for the meeting after learning that Mr. Heston was visiting Alabama to campaign for Republicans.
At Mr. Heston's request, the letter was not made public until Saturday, the day after Mr. Heston made three campaign appearances on behalf of Republicans for state and federal office, including Mr. Riley.
Riley spokesman David Azbell said the Oscar-winning actor, who last month announced that he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease, had been taken advantage of by the governor. Mr. Azbell called the endorsement "suspicious."
"If Mr. Heston had endorsed Don Siegelman on Thursday night, the honorable thing to do was for Mr. Heston to mention to Congressman Riley while they were riding around the state on a six-seat plane," Mr Azbell said.
"We all know Mr. Heston is an honorable man, and we can only conclude [Mr. Siegelman] is trying to take advantage of Charleton Heston in some way," Mr. Azbell said.
Asked whether the Riley campaign thought the endorsement was the result of Mr. Heston's illness, Mr. Azbell responded, "Our fear is that Don Siegelman is taking advantage of Mr. Heston in some way."
But Mr. Heston's spokesman said there was no confusion. He said Mr. Heston was pleased to appear with other Republican candidates, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, but he did not support Mr. Riley.
"I think everyone involved was pretty clear on the point that Mr. Riley was not going to be endorsed by Mr. Heston," Mr. Powell said. "That was made pretty clear before he went down there."
Mr. Heston said he endorsed Mr. Siegelman based on his record of support for gun rights.
"Your record of achievement in protecting shooting ranges, promoting hunting, and signing legislation pivotal to the future of firearm rights stands as an example of what a true leader can do to secure our cherished traditions for future generations," Mr. Heston said in the letter.
Mr. Siegelman's campaign office provided The Washington Times with a faxed copy of Mr. Heston's letter, and Mr. Andrews said the campaign was "pumped up" about the endorsement.
"It's a reminder to all Alabamians that hold these Second Amendment issues close to their heart the governor shares their values," Mr. Andrews said.
The National Rifle Association would not comment on Mr. Heston's endorsement. The Riley campaign suggested the endorsement was another Siegelman trick.
"There have been so many signals the administration has been so corrupt and the ethical lapses are so many, questions around the facts of the endorsement are suspicious," Mr. Azbell said.
"The only thing we can conclude is Don Siegelman is up to his old tricks again; desperate men do desperate things," Mr. Azbell said.
Marty Conners, state Republican chairman, told the Mobile Register that the endorsement was an effort at "damage control" by Mr. Siegelman to blunt the effects of Mr. Heston's visit.
"This is brass-knuckle politics," Mr. Conners said. "I think Siegelman got desperate, so he turned on the Democrat machine and did everything he could. Siegelman wasn't on stage with Heston, Bob Riley was."
The Siegelman campaign criticized Republican reaction to the endorsement as "disturbing."
"The way Bob Riley has handled it will probably make a lot of people angry. A lot of comments they have made about Mr. Heston [are] outrageous and insensitive. I think Riley will be forced to apologize in the end," Mr. Andrews said.

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