The political grapevine hummed Friday, July 6 with news that Billy Canary, long time CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, announced his resignation. Canary has been in hot water for months concerning his management style and combative approach to working with legislators.
And apparently the water got too hot to handle in recent weeks when several of the stalwarts of the organization, such as Alabama Power, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Regions bank and PowerSouth, made very public withdrawals.
Canary became CEO in 2003 and BCA became one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Alabama. His influence skyrocketed in 2010 when the backlash against the election of President Obama created a supermajority of Republicans in both the Alabama House and Senate. With Del Marsh firmly in control of the Senate and Mike Hubbard as Speaker of the House, Canary was clearly in the catbird’s seat.
This was about the same time that BCA began spending money trying to get their friends elected to the state school board. Like real money. Like hundreds of thousands of dollars on some races. For instance they spent nearly $300,000 in 2016 hoping to elect Justin Barkley in place of incumbent Stephanie Bell and hoping that appointed incumbent Matt Brown could hold off the challenge of Jackie Zeigler. Both were unsuccessful.
Several years ago BCA created the Business Education Alliance and hired former state school superintendent Joe Morton and former chair of the House Ways & Means Education committee Jay Love. This group’s playbook looked like something straight from the American Legislative Exchange Council or a Jeb Bush foundation. One would be hard-pressed to call either an advocate for public schools.
And in the world of an eye for an eye, BCA played an active role in making sure I lost in the primary for a seat on the Montgomery County school board. Billy Canary gave my opponent $250 and Jay Love gave him $1,500, in addition to activities by various and sundry other BCA operatives.
Now that I think about it, mine may be the last hide that Canary can tack on his wall of trophies. Which is not saying much when your target is a 75-year-old candidate for a local school board. For sure, BCA’s contributions to state school board candidates in the 2018 election cycle are nowhere close to as large as they were just two years ago.
What happens now? How does Canary’s absence impact BCA and their stance of public education? They are a powerful group for sure and could definitely be impactful in working with public education to tackle some challenges. But over the past few years, they have seemed intent to be a public education adversary–not an ally.
We can only hope for a change.