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Air Travel Creates Turbulence for Another Alabama Governor

October 18, 1994

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Another Alabama governor has run into political turbulence over accusations of wrongdoing involving air travel, and this time, it’s happening in an election year.

Democratic Gov. Jim Folsom and his family got a cut-rate round trip to the Cayman Islands in 1993 aboard a jet owned by gambling magnate Milton McGregor, newspapers reported this month, citing an unidentified Republican source.

After he returned from the weeklong vacation, Folsom lobbied for a gambling bill sought by McGregor to expand his holdings.

The flight was taken only weeks before Folsom was elevated from lieutenant governor when Republican Gov. Guy Hunt was ousted for stealing from his inaugural fund. The case against Hunt began with reports that he wrongly used state aircraft to fly to paid preaching engagements at Baptist churches.

With Hunt’s departure, Folsom sold the state jet. Now, Folsom is looking for a political parachute.

Folsom’s opponent, Republican Fob James, didn’t comment on the Cayman Islands trip when it was disclosed Oct. 1. But this week, he called it ″a tremendous conflict of interest, and not too many years ago was known as a bribe.″

Folsom, the son of the late two-term Gov. ″Big Jim″ Folsom, said his mother, Jamelle Folsom, made the travel arrangements with McGregor’s aviation company and that he had nothing to do with them. He said she paid $2,600 to cover fuel costs, the only costs charged.

Folsom won’t provide documents backing his claim that the $2,600 was paid by his mother, who is so deep in debt at the time that her wages as a employee in the state Agriculture Department had been attached.

After the news reports on the trip, Folsom paid the aviation company an additional $400, which he said would make the amount paid equal to a commercial flight for him, his wife and two children.

The trip has been valued at more than $14,000 by some aviation companies.

Folsom denied that his support of the bill backed by McGregor was connected to the trip. The bill never passed the Legislature.

In addition to the flying flap, Folsom is under investigation by Alabama’s attorney general, a Democrat.

Folsom’s personal bank records have been subpoenaed by investigators trying to determine whether he improperly benefited from more than $1 million in legal fees paid to John Tanner. Tanner is Folsom’s state-paid lawyer and confidant who received state contracts through Folsom.

Folsom has said repeatedly that the allegations are false.

″By itself I don’t think it is going to swing votes,″ Brad Moody, a political analyst at Auburn University, said of the airplane controversy. ″But combined with all the other, that is the area he is most vulnerable on.″

Polls have James trailing Folsom. But James has had his own choppy flights on state aircraft.

James, who was governor from 1979 to 1983, was criticized for his wife’s use of a state airplane to travel to an out-of-state church meeting.

James also was criticized when he used a state plane for a hunting trip to Canada that included a state reception for an Alabama man being honored in Canada by a civic organization.

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