Jo Bonner Comes To Montgomery

Governor Kay Ivey has just announced that former Congressman, Jo Bonner, is joining her staff as “senior advisor.”  In my opinion,  this is great news for the people of Alabama.

I have known Jo since 1982.  And if I could sum him up in just one word, it would be GENUINE.  What you see is what you get.  As far as I know, he is the same person he was when I met him 36 years ago.  He has a moral compass that is steadfast and has always seen the light side of life–even when the joke is on him.  Trust me, there are not many in the political world I would say this about.

He was just out of school at the University of Alabama and working on the campaign of my college classmate, Lt. Governor George McMillan, who was running for governor, in 1982.  (And lost in a runoff to George Wallace.)  Jo was working throughout the Wiregrass and was stationed in Dothan.

McMillan was having a rally in Dothan and that’s where Jo and I met.  At some point that evening Jo asked where I was spending the night since I lived in Montgomery.  I told him I had no plans and he graciously suggested that I spend the night with him since he had an available bed.  I did.

Years later when he was elected to Congress from Alabama’s First District, he sent me a note on his stationary and said something to the effect, “I will not forget the night we spent together in Dothan.”

He told me later with a hardy laugh that his secretary questioned what he said in the note and asked him if he was really going to send it.  He told her he was because it was true.  How do you not appreciate that quality in a person?

When we studied 10 rural elementary schools in 2008, I was dumbfounded by the physical condition of Calcedever elementary in the north end of Mobile County.  To call it deplorable was being too kind.

I got Jo to come visit the school and see firsthand.  He did.  And in each room he quickly told the students that he worked in Washington and if they were ever going to be there, he would help arrange a tour for them.  A little blond guy in the first grade paid rapt attention and as soon as Jo said this, he quickly pulled out his pencil and asked, “What is your number?”

I nearly fell in the floor laughing.

Jo worked for Congressman Sonny Callahan of Mobile for 18 years.  And when Sonny retired in 2002, Jo was elected to replace him.  He stepped down in 2013 to take a position at the University of Alabama.

As we say in Red Level, “Kay, you done good.”




Is The Business Council Getting Out Of The Education Picture?

As we reported back in July, longtime head of the Business Council of Alabama, Billy Canary, was ousted from his position after months of high stakes politicking by some of Alabama major companies.

His replacement will be Katie Britt, who is presently chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby.  As explained in this article by the Alabama Political Reporter, she was selected by the BCA executive committee for the top job in October and all that is left is a vote by the full board of directors.

But here is what really caught my attention in the article:

“It is also believed that the executive committee wants to pull back from some of the group’s programs like Business in Education, an arm of BCA started to compete with the Alabama Education Association.

“BCA has to get back to its core mission,” said a prominent supporter. “BCA needs to concentrate its efforts on promoting business, not frivolous power grabs.”

I’ve made no pretense of my feelings about BCA and some of their education initiatives.  Just check out articles here and here.  And the fact I was willing to say that the emperor had no clothes is what prompted the BCA to come after me hard during my campaign for the Montgomery school board last spring.  Canary gave my primary opponent $250 and Jay Love, who is finance chairman of the Business Education Alliance, chipped in $1,500.

BCA also spent major PAC funds on state school board races in 2014 and 2016.  Like several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Canary once worked at the White House in the administration of the first President Bush.  And he is a true believer in the education reform efforts promoted by Jeb Bush.  Jeb is president and chairman of the ExcellinEd Foundation that is a major promoter of things like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, etc.  The fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomburg Philanthropies and the Walton Foundation have given this group more than $1 million each is ample testimony about their agenda.

And under Canary, BCA was all about the same things.  They made a big deal each February of promoting a “school choice” rally in Montgomery and they were an unabashed cheerleader for Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.  I will never forget sitting in a legislative committee meeting when BCA told everyone how wonderful the Alabama Accountability Act is.

While I do hope this BCA agenda bites the dust, I also think they could be a positive force for public education in this state.  Goodness knows we need all the help we can get.

But before they tackle anything they should spend a lot more time talking to honest-to-goodness educators.  You know like those who are principals and teachers and understand our challenges far better that people who work in big offices in tall buildings.

Principals are key to good schools.  But too often we do not give them the professional development they desperately need.  BCA  could make a huge contribution to this state by developing some pilot PD programs for principals.  Or how about using their vast network of business contacts by encouraging their members to get involved in local school systems?  The list could go on and on.

I do not know Katie Britt.  I certainly wish her well and look forward to meeting her in the near-future.



Bless His Heart

The PTOs of Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook city school systems held their 14th annual PTO Legislative Forum the evening of Nov. 15.  All legislators representing this area attended.  They included State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Dan Roberts and House members David Faulkner, Jim Carns and David Wheeler.

All are Republicans and Roberts and Wheeler are new to the legislature.

Questions were asked about new funding for schools, the state education budget, school choice, school assessment, school safety and mental health.

Having written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act (choice) and the A-F school report cards (assessment), I was especially interested in response to each of these.  Here are pertinent sections of an article from the Vestavia Voice:


PTO representatives also asked how legislators felt about the state spending about $30 million in each year in scholarships for students to transfer out of failing schools, which they said only hurts failing schools more and profits private schools over public schools.

Wheeler said he wants the Alabama Accountability Act, which authorized the expenditure, to be repealed, arguing it “benefits a few at the sacrifice of many.”

Faulkner disagreed, saying he’s seen poor children benefit from the act, moving into better schools. Faulkner argued the act does not hurt Vestavia and Mountain Brook schools.


Talking about “failing schools,” PTO representatives asked how legislators felt about the A through F report card.

Wheeler and Faulkner again disagreed, with Faulkner saying while it may have some issues, he supports the system, with Wheeler saying it was very flawed and an “administrative burden,” arguing the state legislature should listen to educators on this issue.

“A score on one standardized test does not accurately reflect on what you do,” Wheeler said.”

As you see, there is a stark contrast between how Wheeler and Faulkner see things.  Knowing what I know, I have to feel that Wheeler has done his homework while Faulkner has not.

This is certainly true when Faulkner says that neither Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook systems have been hurt by the accountability act.  He doesn’t seem to understand that all systems are funded from the Education Trust Fund and that when money is diverted from ETF, there is less money to spend on EVERY system in the state.

Presently the accountability act has diverted $!46.6 million from ETF since 2013.  This amounts to $201 per student–including those in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook.  This adds up to $867,516 for Mountain Brook and $1,437,351 for Vestavia Hills.

Records show that from Jan. 1 through Nov. 2 Faulkner raised more than $200,000 for his re-election campaign and still has more than $175,000 in the bank.  Number One.  Perhaps he can take some of this money and help his schools make up for what AAA has cost them.  Number Two.  Perhaps he should sit down with David Wheeler and get up to speed on some education issues.


Looking At Members Of 2019 Legislature

With the general election now over, we at least know who the brand new members of both the Alabama House and Senate will be.  There will be 12 new Senators and 28 new House members.

Actually, three of the Senators are former House members moving to the other chamber.  These are Donnie Chesteen of Geneva; David Sessions of Grand Bay and Jack Williams of Wilmer.  They will be joined by brand new Senators Garlan Gudger of Cullman; Sam Givhan of Huntsville, Andrew Jones of Centre; Randy Price of Opelika, Dan Roberts of Birmingham; Will Barfoot of Montgomery and Chis Elliott of Spanish Fort.  Former Senator Tom Butler of Huntsville is returning after sitting out a couple of sessions.

New House members are: Andrew Sorrell of Muscle Shoals; Parker Moore of Decatur; Andy Whitt of Harvest, Proncey Robertson of Mt. Hope; Scott Stadthagen of Hartselle; Tracy Estes of Winfield; Jamie Kiel of Russellville; Rex Reynolds of Huntsville; Gil Isbell of Gadsden, Craig Lipscomb of Gadsden, Debbie Wood of Valley; Ginny Shaver of Centre; David Wheeler of Vestavia Hills; Neil Rafferty of Birmingham; Rodney Sullivan of Northport; Brett Easterbrook of Fruitdale; TaShina Morris of Montgomery; Kirk Hatcher of Montgomery; Ed Oliver of Dadeville, Jeremy Gray of Opelika; Jeff Sorrells of Hartford; Will Dismukes of Prattville, Wes Allen of Troy;  Rhett Marques of Enterprise; Matt Simpson of Daphne, Sam Jones of Mobile, Shane Stringer of Citronelle and Chip Brown of Mobile.

In all, 34 percent of the Senate is new, while 27 percent of the House is.

The House will meet this week to organize leadership..  Of the 15 members of the House Ways & Means Education committee appointed to serve after the 2014 election, eight of them are no longer in the legislature.  Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa currently chairs this committee and is likely to return.

As to the education policy committee, chaired by Terri Collins of Decatur, seven of the 13 members no longer are in the House.

So there are plenty of new players now in the game.  Will this bode well for education?  Time will tell.  But this is definitely an opportunity for public schools.


Thoughts On Tuesday’s Election

Since most of us have now thanked the Good Lord that another election day has come and gone and we’ve had time to take a deep breathe, let’s spend a few minutes reflecting on what happened across Alabama.

A few days ago I posted that I would be watching five legislative races in particular.  These were Senate races in northwest and northeast Alabama, as well as one in east Alabama, along with a House race in Baldwin County and one in Huntsville.

I made no forecasts, just gave some details on both Republican and Democratic candidates and passed along thoughts I picked up from others.  Had not seen any polls, nor had a dog in any of these fights.

But what I thought might be highly contested races turned out to be anything but, except in one case.  Let’s begin there.

Veteran Democrat House member Johnny Mack Morrow challenged first-term Republican Senator Larry Stutts in the northwest corner of the state.  There were 42,363 votes in this race, Stutts got 899 more than Morrow.  While the race in Huntsville between Democrat Amy Wasyluka and veteran Tom Butler was somewhat competitive, 54 percent to 46 percent for Butler was a very comfortable win.

The other three went strongly for the Republican candidates.  Veteran Democrat House member Craig Fold of Etowah County ran as an Independent against newcomer Andrew Jones of Cherokee County.  Jones got 61 percent.  In the Mountain Book section of Birmingham, newcomer Democrat Felicia Stewart challenged incumbent Republican David Faulkner to no avail.  He got 62 percent.  Down in Fairhope, newcomer Danielle Mashburn-Myrick went against veteran Republican House member Joe Faust.  He beat her better than two to one.

Takeaway one.  If millennial, suburban females are breaking away from the Republican party in some parts of the country, the memo never got to Alabama.  Wasyluka, Stewart and Mashburn-Myrick definitely fit the image.  Each was a new comer to politics, bright, articulate and personable. Didn’t matter.  They were Democrats in a deep, deep red state.

According to the secretary of state, 65 percent of all ballots voted Nov. 6 were straight ticket.  Some 661,898 were Republican, 460,408 were Democrat.  This 201,490 advantage to Republican candidates put all Democrats in a deep hole.  Especially those running for statewide offices such as Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Supreme Court Chief Justice, Auditor, etc.  In almost all of these cases, Democrats found it hard to break 40 percent.

Walt Maddox for governor (40.3); Will Boyd for Lt. Governor (38.6); Joseph Siegelman for attorney general (41.1); Bob Vance for Chief Justice (42.5) Miranda Joseph for auditor (39.4)

Editor’s note: I have never voted a straight ticket and don’t plan to any time in the future.  How folks can just blindly give their vote because of party affiliation is something I don’t understand.  I take my vote more seriously than this.

Takeaway two:  Alabama does have a two party system, but it is not Democrat and Republican, it is black party and white party.  The 2019 session of the legislature will have only two white Democrats and no black Republicans.  Montgomery is 55 percent black.  While trounced statewide, here Maddox got 63 percent, Boyd 63 and Siegelman 66.

Macon County is 82 percent black.  Maddox got 81 percent; Boyd 84 and Siegelman 85.  But flip to Winston County which has less than one percent black population and Maddox got 14 percent; Boyd 11 and Siegelman 15.

Alabama is 26.2 percent black, Georgia is 30.5 and Florida only 16.  However, black Democrats in both Georgia and Florida came within an eyelash of being elected governor Nov. 6.

Could that happen here?  I’ll let you mull that one over.



Dig Where The Taters Are

After posting the piece about Republican candidates getting campaign contributions from the PAC, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education, a number of emails showed up in my inbox with folks wondering what is going on and if giving to people who have traditionally fought public schools makes any sense.

The ONE thing all successful politicians have in common is that they can each count.  Doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, white or black, they know that most political battles are won by those with the most troops.  In Alabama these days, that means Republican and it’s easy to figure out that it is good to be friends \with those in charge.

There is no doubt that the quickest way to a legislator’s heart is through their pocket book.  Campaigns cost a lot of money, way too much in many cases.  Raising money for campaigns ain’t much fun.  I’ve done enough of it to know first hand.  So when someone offers to help, you are all ears.

For years I’ve understood that you best “dig where the taters are.”  Today, the Republicans in the state house have most of the taters.  AVOTE, and lots of others, have figured this out.  Makes perfect sense to me.

Think of a beach and the waves rolling in.  Every time a wave retreats, the beach has been changed in some small way.  That’s politics.  Always shifting and changing.  And so you either shift–or get washed away.