The Vultures Are Circling The Business Council Of Alabama

Tongues have wagged in Montgomery for months as to the fate of Billy Canary, longtime CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.  Canary, who is from Long Island, NY, has been head of BCA since 2003.  Along the way he became closely aligned with former
Governor Bob Riley and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.

This trio wielded enormous power in Montgomery–at least until Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 felony ethics violations in 2016.  Canary’s brusque approach dealing with legislators has not gone over well in recent years.  An example being when Canary and the late  Representative Jim Patterson of Huntsville got into a shouting match over a bill requiring insurance coverage for therapy for autistic children, which BCA opposed.

Alabama Power has been a strong BCA supporter since the group was formed in 1985.  But that support officially ended June 18 when the company notified BCA that the organization had “needlessly alienated federal and state officials, failed to communicate with its own members, squandered our collective corporate goodwill, allowed its financial health to decline, and became a divisive force in our state.”

Immediately on the heels of Alabama Power’s withdrawal came news that Regions bank and PowerSouth were also pulling their support.  (For a good overview of BCA, see this article from AL.com.)

The troubles at BCA are welcome news to the public education community as they have consistently taken stances not in the best interest of public schools.  BCA created the Business Education Alliance in 2013 and hired former state superintendent Joe Morton to run it.  A few minutes on the BEA website tells one that they love charter schools, “school choice”, vouchers, etc.

You even find this statement, “Just as  competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for education.  Failing schools are provide the incentive they need in order to improve or risk losing students to better performing facilities.”

If this is true–and it is not–how come failing schools across the Black Belt never got the message?

BEA shows 14 partners across the state, two of them being Alabama Power and Regions bank.  In addition to supporting such legislation as the Alabama Accountability Act and A-F school report cards, BCA also supported Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education.

For at least the last eight years, BCA and its political action committee, ProgressPac,have been by far the largest donor to state school board campaigns. Mary Scott Hunter is a prime example.  She received $15,000 from BCA when she first ran for the state board in 2010, another $75,000 when she ran again in 2014 and another $45,000 this year in her losing effort for state senate.

In 2016, BCA gave Justin Barkley $106,255 when he ran against incumbent Stephanie Bell.  They also gave Matt Brown $141,000 in his losing effort to keep Jackie Zeigler from taking his seat that same year.  And as we reported a few weeks ago, records from the Secretary of State show that of the five board members who recently voted for Eric Mackey for state superintendent, four got $284,230 from BCA since 2014, while the four members who did not vote for him received zero contributions from BCA.

Other dots connect.  Mary Scott Hunter works for INTUITIVE Research and Technology of Huntsville.  They are one of the 14 partners supporting the Business Education Alliance..  Hunter was also part of the controversy in 2016 concerning the selection of Mike Sentance as state superintendent.  The day she testified to a legislative committee about her involvement in this matter, we learned that she was at a BCA conference at Point Clear telling folks that Craig Pouncey was being investigated by the Ethics Commission.  A claim that was totally false.

And the day she testified, one of the audience members was Billy Canary. (Hunter is scheduled to go to trial later this year to defend herself in a suit brought by Pouncey.)

Of course, I have my own story to tell about BCA because of their involvement in working against me in my recent Montgomery school board race.  Canary gave my opponent a personal check.  A lobbyist who represents BCA was doing opposition research on me in an effort to have me kicked off the ballot.  A blogger was getting old newspaper clips from the lobbyist in hopes of smearing my name.

So I shed no tears for BCA as the wheels appear to be coming off.  No doubt this is the same sentiments of the vast majority of Alabamians who work with the 730,00 children who attend our public schools.

 

 

 

A Look At State School Board Race In District 2

After being first elected in 2002, incumbent state school board member Betty Peters of Dothan is stepping down this year.  Four Republicans and one Democrat qualified to seek this seat.  Two Republicans, John Taylor of Dolhan and Sybil Little of Coffee County, were eliminated in the June 5 primary, leaving Tracie West of Auburn and Melanie Hill of Dothan in a runoff on July 17.

They will face Democrat Adam Jortner of Auburn in November.

I have been “doing politics” for more than 40 years.  Normally you can carefully dissect what happens in an election and it will make sense.  But sometimes things just get really whacky.  Like in this Republican primary on June 5.

Melanie Hill is a one-time Dothan city school board member and cranked up her campaign in July 2017 when she raised $6,175.  West, who chairs the Auburn city school board, filed her first financial statement in November 2017 showing contributions of both cash and in-kind of $20,633.  On the other hand, Taylor says he only raised $2,170 and spent $2,169 through the primary, while Little showed no contributions or expenses.

Of the 60,423 votes cast in the 13 counties of the district, Hill got 18,786, West 18,175, Taylor 15,807 and Little 3,939.

Taylor was supported by Peters and she may have had longer than expected coat tails.  For example, he topped all candidates in Clay with 879, Randolph with 1,198 and Russell with 519.  (Perhaps I should ask him how he made so little money go so far.)

West was the best funded contender, raising $45,342 and spending $84,137.  She and her business loaned the campaign $50,000.  The business also made a $5,000 donation.  She got $2,500 from a Montgomery PAC.

Hill raised $28,734 and spent $23,534.  She got $15,000 from two Montgomery PACs.

Runoffs are quirky to say the least.  (I won one and lost one.)  And it is wise to remember that when there is a runoff, it means the frontrunner had more people who did not vote for them than folks who did.  Figuring how these votes will break is the $64 million question.

But at this stage, I have to think Hill is in a better place than West.  Geography being one reason.  District Two is very much a north-south region, running from the Alabama-Florida line south of Dothan to north of I-20 in Cleburne county.  That’s about 200 miles from stem to stern.  It is easily divided into north and south counties.

The southern counties are Houston, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry and Barbour.  Northern counties are Russell, Lee, Tallapoosa, Randolph, Cleburne, Clay and Chambers.  On June 5, the southern counties had 33,652 (55.6%) of the total vote.  And because three candidates were  from this region with only one remaining, Hill has a much better chance of rounding up Taylor and Little votes here than does West.

Fox example, Little and Taylor got 11,968 votes in the south, compared to 9,095 in the north.  So if those break 66% to Hill in the south and 66% to West in the north, Hill gains 1,897.  West only received 23.3% of the southern vote in the primary.

Of course, turnout, which was low on June 5, will drop considerably in the runoff.  While there are statewide runoffs for Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries, along with seats on the Supreme Court, Criminal Appeals and Civil Appeals, none are likely to stir up much excitement.  However, West could get a bump due to runoffs for House seats in Lee, Chambers and Tallapoosa counties, as well as a Senate runoff in Lee, Russell, Chambers, Clay, Randolph and Cleburne.

Here again the advantage may fall to Hill because of the runoff between Congress lady Martha Roby and former Congressman Bobby Bright in Congressional District two that includes Barbour, Henry, Houston, Geneva, Dale and Coffee counties.  Plus, Dothan’s Judge Brad Mendheim is in a runoff for the Supreme Court.

Check back with me on July18 and we’ll see how my crystal ball works after all these years..

 

 

Is Del Marsh Losing His Mo Jo?

Senator Del Marsh has been in the cat bird’s seat ever since the Republican tsunami of 2010 swung the balance of power in Montgomery from D to R.  As president pro tem of the Senate, all roads lead through Marsh’s office.  He appoints committee chairs and generally little happens without his blessing.

However,  life goes on and with each election new faces pop up in Montgomery.  And back home, folks begin to view longtime politicians through a different lens.

Marsh was first elected in 1998.  How long ago was that?  It was the same year Don Siegleman beat incumbent governor Fob James by 200,000 votes.  Twenty years is a lifetime in politics.

The June 5 election gives reason to think Marsh’s clout could be waning.  He faced Weaver mayor Wayne Willis in the Republican primary. Marsh spent $458,679 dollars on his campaign.  Willis spent $12,892. Yet the senate president pro tem won by less than 1,000 votes.

Plus, when the senate convenes next January, Marsh will be looking at a decidedly different group of senators.  Of the 35 in the body, at  least 11 of them will be new faces on the Republican side of the aisle.  They will be joined by eight Democrats.  Only 15 of the Republicans who have served with Marsh will be back.

And sometimes new members don’t care to wait in line.  That’s what happened in the House of  Representatives in 2014.  A number of new Republican house members were not hesitant to buck the iron fist of then Speaker Mike Hubbard.  When Hubbard was thrown out of office and Mac McCutcheon took over as speaker, power shifted noticeably.

Educators will watch this all unfold with great interest as Marsh has not been a friend of public schools.  He is the one who passed the infamous Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 that has since diverted $147 million from the Education Trust Fund.  It is highly unlikely that many in the education community will shed tears when Senator Marsh is no longer around.

 

Mary Scott Hunter Lost Bid For State Senate. Did She Take Rich McAdams Down With Her?

The aftermath of any election brings a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking with it.  Campaigns are dissected from stem to stern and conjecture about why did this or that happen comes forth.

One of the more closely watched state senate campaigns was in Huntsville where Republicans Mary Scott Hunter and Sam Givhan were hoping to replace retiring senator Paul Sanford in District 7.  Actually this was a rematch from 2009 when both ran in a special election for a vacancy in this seat.

That time Givhan was in a runoff with Sanford and lost.  Hunter was third in the primary.  She then ran for the state board of education in 2010 and was elected.  To say the least, her two terms on this board have been fraught with controversy.  Especially the role she played in the ill-fated hiring of Mike Sentance as state school superintendent in 2016.  Hunter is now scheduled to go to trial later this year to defend herself in legal action brought by Craig Pouncey, Jefferson County school superintendent, regarding her conduct as a board member.

While Hunter is bright, it seemed she was always tripping over her ambitions.  For eight years,  almost ANY discussion of a political opening included her name.  In 2014 she mentioned running for governor, then you heard her name kicked around when the 2018 race for attorney general was brought up.  And in fact, in 2017 she held a kickoff for her campaign for Lt. Governor, only to reconsider a few weeks later when Twinkle Cavanaugh decided to seek the same office.

So, Givhan, already an announced state senate candidate at that time, suddenly had company.

Theirs was a hand-fought battle with polls showing them head to head until the waning days of the campaign when Givhan took her to task over Common Core.  He ended up winning handily, 57 percent to 43 percent.

At the same time, two Republicans were vying for Hunter’s seat on the state school board.  One, Wayne Reynolds is a one-time Athens City school superintendent.  The other, Rich McAdams, once was on the Madison County school board.

Word was that McAdams was Hunter’s candidate of choice.  This seems to be confirmed when you check his list of contributors.  The Business Council of Alabama gave him $5,000.  Because of their stance concerning charter schools, vouchers, A-F  school report cards and the Alabama  Accountability Act, money linked to BCA is a huge red flag for the education community.

(Editor’s note: I can speak with some authority on this topic as BCA relentlessly worked to make sure I did not get on the Montgomery County school board.)

McAdams also received $20,000 from Harold Brewer, CEO and  co-founder of INTUITIVE, where Hunter is employed.  (Brewer gave more than $175,000 to Hunter’s senate  race.)  In all, McAdams spent $57,000.

By comparison, Reynolds spent less that $4,000 to eke out a win by 2,156 votes.

The kiss of death for McAdams may well have been that on June 3, two days before the election, he posted Hunter’s response to Givhan’s attack ads on his Facebook page.  In today’s world where it seems everyone is just a click away, this was probably one click too many for McAdams.

 

 

WOW. The “Good” Guys And “Bad” Guys Are All Wearing White Hats

Not so very long ago, most political blood-letting happened between Republicans and Democrats.  The Alabama Education Association and the trial lawyers were the dreaded enemies of the GOP and you never heard one mentioned without the other.

Oh how the times have changed.

Let’s take a look at the election in House District 39 to replace retiring Democrat Richard Lindsey who held the seat since being elected in 1983.  (In my book, Richard is the kind of legislator we need more of.  Well-respected by one and all, chaired the extremely important House  Ways & Means Education committee for years.  Republican Bill Poole who now chairs this committee is cut from the same cloth as Richard.)

The winner of the June 5 primary between Republicans Ginny Shaver of Cherokee County and T. J. Maloney of Cleburne County will go to Montgomery since there is not a Democrat seeking this seat.

Shaver is a long-time fixture in Republican circles in Cherokee County (though it should be noted that her husband Jeff Shaver has served as Cherokee County sheriff many years as a DEMOCRAT.  He is up for re-election this year and is running as a Republican this time.). Maloney moved to Alabama in 2011 to be executive director of the Alabama Republican Party.

The district includes all of Cherokee and Cleburne counties and small slices of Calhoun and DeKalb.

Both Shaver and Maloney started their campaigns nearly a year ago.  Shaver shows she raised $6,570 in July 2017.  Maloney raised $22,064 last June.  Reports through May18 of this year show Maloney has raised $96,426 and Shaver $61,870.

But here is where the lines get blurred.

Maloney has gotten $43,145 from political action committees.  The Business Council of Alabama gave $20,000.  (Which is a good sign of where he will be regarding public education.)

PACs have donated $26,750 to Shaver.  the Alabama Education Association gave $7,500, $1,500 came from trial lawyers and $2,500 from the Poarch Creek Indians  (Let the record show that Maloney also got $1,500 from the trial lawyers PAC.).

But before you jump to conclusions about Shaver and her contribution from the Poarch Creek Indians, note that such Republican stalwarts as senators Jabo Waggoner, Jimmy Holley, Del Marsh, Shay Shelnutt and Steve Livingston also got money from the same source.  And senate hopeful and currently state school board member Mary Scott Hunter got $10,000.

So what have we learned?  That the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” is alive and well is a great place to start.

 

 

 

 

Did He Really Say That?

It seems that it would not be a normal legislative session without at least one bill that is considered “very contentious.”  Most observers are bestowing this title to HB317 for the session that ended this week.

As I understand it (and I make no promises that I do) this bill calls into question whether folks called “economic developers” have to sign up with the Ethics Commission as lobbyists and live by the same rules that apply to other folks who lobby.

On the one hand there were legislators saying that this was important to make sure Alabama economic developers were not put at a disadvantage to their counterparts in other states.  Those opposing the bill claimed it was actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing and would allow some people to thumb their nose at the Ethics Commission.

For the record:  Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard had a contract for $12,000 a month with the Southeast Alabama Gas District to assist them in “economic development.”

The Alabama Political Reporter has a good summary of the give and take.  Go here to see it.

As I read this account, here is the passage that jumped off the page at me.

“Do we sometimes have to come back and fix bills?” said Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville. “Sure, because we’re part-time legislators, serve for 30 days and don’t know what the far-reaching effects of a law will be.”

Beckman is not running for re-election.  He is running for Autauga County Probate Judge instead.  So he won’t be around to “fix” this bill.  He was part of the crowd elected in 2010.  This is significant because Beckman voted for the A-F school report cards that have been denounced by educators from one end of Alabama to the other and he also voted for the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $116 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to private schools.

And if there have ever been bills that need “fixing,” I can’t think of two better candidates.  But strangely enough, neither Rep. Beckman, nor any of his colleagues, have ever said a word about repealing these bills that I am aware of.

But then, I guess there is a lot of difference in how some folks at the statehouse view lobbyists as compared to students in school.