Republican Candidates Gobble Up AEA Money

There was a time not so long ago when the Alabama Republican party could not mention the Democratic party without also mentioning the Alabama Education Association AND trial lawyers.  If a Democrat was being vilified, so was AEA and trial lawyers.

Then something strange happened.  Almost overnight the Republicans stopped cussing trial lawyers.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why.  All you had to do was look at the campaign financial disclosure paperwork of Republican candidates.  As if by magic, they discovered that campaign contributions coming from trial attorneys were as green as dollars coming from the Business Council of Alabama.

And lo and behold, folks like me who look at campaign contributions found lots and lots of dollars coming from a political action committee by the name of Trust Representing Involved Alabama Lawyers (TRIAL) on Republican financial records.

From the looks of campaign donations in this year’s cycle, one has to expect that Republicans will soon stop speaking ill of the Alabama Education Association.  And they have 1.1 million reasons to do so.  Because since the first of the year, 75 Republican legislative candidates took $1.1 million from AEA.

Of these, 19 were incumbent senators or candidates seeking to be elected to the senate as a Republican.  And 56 were incumbent House members are wannabes.  AEA picked those it supported well as only six of the 75 candidates they supported lost.

On the Senate side, my friend Chris Elliott, Republican in Baldwin County who was elected to succeed Trip Pittman got more than anyone else, $55,000.  Next came Republican Tom Whatley of Auburn with $42,500.

Incumbent Republican House member Dickie Drake of St. Clair county won the sweepstakes for State Representative with $37,555.  He was followed by incumbent Republican Chris Sells of Greenville with $27,500.

The irony of all this is hardly lost on me because when I ran as a Republican last spring for the Montgomery school board, I was attacked for  once having a contract with AEA.  (I also had contracts with the School Superintendents Association and the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools at one time but those opposing me never mentioned that.)

So while mailboxes across my district were filled with fliers saying: “Larry Lee is a lackey for the AEA.” Republican legislative candidates were filling their war chests with AEA contributions.

But as we’ve just seen nationally, politics is often not what some would have us believe.

And when you couple this development with the fact 30 percent of the Alabama Senate and 25 percent of the House will be first time members in 2019, the dynamics of legislation may be very different than in the recent past.


Why Is California Millionaire Supporting Legislative Candidates In Alabama?

William Oberndorf is a hedge fund manager in California apparently with LOTS of money.  Enough that he sent $100,000 to Alabama in 2014 and $85,000 in 2018 to be used to support political candidates.  He does this by giving to something called “The Alabama Federation for Children.”

I have written about this group before.  As best I can determine, they are a “federation” in name only.  For example, if they have a board of directors I can’t find them.  They do have web site which makes it clear they strongly support the Alabama Accountability Act, school choice, vouchers, etc.  We know they are affiliated with the American Federation for Children which was created by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  (Which tells you about all you really know.)

They obviously have a good relationship with Oberndorf since he is their only contributor for the 2018 election cycle.  Though the Californian is a staunch Republican and has given more than $1 million to the California Republican Party, he did not support Donald Trump for President and told the New York Times he planned to vote for Hillary Clinton.

According to Secretary of State figures, here is who has benefited from the Oberndorf money (listed in order of how much they received.)

  1. Republican Debby Wood, running to replace Issac Whorton in House Distrct 38 in east Alabama.  $19,792
  2. Andrew Sorrell, Republican, running for House District 3 in northwest Alabama.  $15,404
  3. Incumbent Republican House member Mike Ball, District 10.  $8,452
  4. Republican Bull Corry challenging incumbent Tim Wadsworth in House District 14.  He lost.  $8,400
  5. Republican Pouncey Robertson in House District 7, an open seat.  $8,134
  6. Ginny Shaver is a Republican who won House District 39.  AFC spent $8,012 to oppose her.  She defeated T. J. Malony in the primary.
  7. Incumbent Terry Collins, House District 8.  $7,782
  8. Republican challenger Ted Crockett ran against incumbent Dickie Drake in House District  45.  AFC spent $7,702 opposing him.  Drake won.
  9. Incumbent Demitri Polizos, House District 74.  $7,000
  10. New comer Republican Shane Stringer in House District 102.  $6,158
  11. Democrat Jelani Coleman ran against incumbent Prince Chestnut in House District 67.  $6,019  Chestnut won.
  12. Republican Tom Fredricks ran against Parker Moore in the primary in House District 4..  AFC spent $4,044 opposing him.  Moore won.




Time To Go To Work

When the legislature convenes in January 2019, about 25 percent of both the Senate and House members will be new.  This is nearly 40 new faces (though there will be some current House members moving to the Senate.)

This is a tremendous opportunity for education.  We need to tell our story to these new members and help them understand that legislation like the A-F school report cards and the Alabama Accountability Act are not at all beneficial to public schools.

As best I can count, there are already three new senators and nine house members who have no opposition in November and therefore, we know they will have a seat after the first of the year.  (Sometimes sorting through all the info as to who is running in November and who many have withdrawn is a challenge, so I make no guarantee that this info is 100 percent accurate.  But it’s my best shot.)

Here is my list….

Senate:  Gary Gudger defeated incumbent Republican Paul Bussman in the primary.  Senate district 4 includes portions or all of Cullman, Lawrence, Winston and Marion counties.,

House member Jack Williams in west Mobile County is moving into senate district 34 that was held by Rusty Glover, who ran for Lt. Governor.

Republican Dan Roberts is replacing Slade Blackwell in senate district 15 that includes portions of Jefferson, Shelby and Talladega counties.

House:  Tracy Estes is replacing Republican Mike Millican in house district 17 that has portions of Marion, Lamar and Winston counties.

Republican Chip Brown will represent district 105 in south Mobile County.  This was represented by David Sessions, who is running for senate.

Shane Stringer will take the seat for district 102 in Mobile County that is now held by Jack Williams.

Coffee County’s district 91, now held by Barry Moore, will be represented by Rhett Marques.

Jeff Sorrells is replacing Donnie Chesteen in district 87 in Geneva and Houston counties.  Chesteen will represent senate district 29 vacated by Harri Anne Smith.

District 6 (Madison and Limestone counties) will be presented by Republican Andy Whitt.  He replaces Phil Williams.

Ginny Shaver of Centre takes over district 39, held for many years by Richard Lindsay.

Tashina Morris will represent district 77 in Montgomery County.  John Knight had this seat for years.

Scott Stadthagen won the campaign to replace Ed Henry in district 9 in Morgan County.

(All email addresses were taken from candidate info on Secretary of State web site.  Hopefully they remain in operation.)

Please join me in emailing each of these new legislators and encouraging them to support public education.




Checking In On The Governor’s Race

Traditionally. campaigns for a November general election don’t really kick off until Labor Day.  However, there doesn’t seem to be much “traditional” about politics these days and because it’s now just three months until Nov. 6th, let’s peek at the governor’s race between Republican Kay Ivey and Democrat Walt Maddox.

Unlike in many elections, voters will have a clear choice between Ivey and Maddox.  Age being the most obvious difference.  On the one hand, Ivey looks like everyone’s kindly grandmother, while Maddox is in his mid-40s and seeks to portray a more vigorous, energetic image.

From the outset Ivey has been the hands on favorite.  After all, she dispatched her primary opponents with little problem.  However, some recent polls are showing the race tightening, though Ivey maintains a comfortable lead.

A good barometer for most campaigns in to check on fund-razing.  While Ivey, like any incumbent, has the advantage in collecting contributions, the just-released financial reports for July for both candidates gives validity to the contention that the race is becoming more competitive.

“Major” donations are considered those of $20,000 or more.  These are to be reported to the Secretary of State immediately upon receipt.  As to be expected, Ivey has done much better than Maddox in tapping such donors.  She has raised about $700,000 from more than 20 major donors, while Maddox only lists two (and one of these is a $50,000 contribution from himself).

Somewhat surprisingly, both were essentially head to head in money raised the last month.  Ivey got $248,523 while Maddox got $245,024.  And Maddox is slightly ahead with cash on hand.  He shows a balance of $313,248 as compared to Ivey’s 271,476.

It’s their approach to fund-raising that is worth noting.  In July, Maddox had more than 550 individual donors, while Ivey had less than 80.  This was not an anomaly as Maddox had nearly 900 contributors in June and May, compared to about 260 for Ivey.  The governor has far more political action committee (PAC) contributions than Maddox does.

I’ve always said that big money invests and little money gives.  Meaning simply that a check for $5,000 includes little more than that while a check for $100 may include a substantial commitment of time in contacting neighbors, writing postcards or knocking on doors.

No doubt the smart money remains on Ivey, but Maddox is certainly proving that he is not to be taken lightly.

Time To Take Politics Out Of The Classroom

One thing I know for certain is that of the hundreds of classrooms I’ve been in, I have NEVER seen one labeled as Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian or whatever.  As best I can tell, classrooms, especially in elementary schools, are about as apolitical as you can get.

So why do we insist on interjecting politics into county school board elections when we don’t do it for municipal school board seats?  Why the double standard?

If a city school board seat is considered non-partisan, why not the same for county school boards?  After all, a county school board is a small body of people where, at least in my opinion, any political allegiance should be checked at the door.  We live in a time where partisanship to some political party or ideology plays far too great a role in actions politicians take.  This has no place where school children are involved.

Obviously my recent experience in running for the Montgomery County school board as a Republican figure greatly in this discussion.  When I qualified I had the notion that candidates would have candid and frank discussions about ideas concerning education and voters would make their choice based on the same.

What ensued was almost anything BUT this.  My candidacy as a Republican was challenged, not once, but twice.  Instead of thinking about education issues, I was forced to spend a lot of time and energy defending my candidacy.  And though both challenges were denied, I was still the object of negative campaigning that centered on partisan politics–not education.

However, had I and all the other candidates running not been branded by a party label, just simply citizens trying to offer their services, the tone of the campaigns would certainly have been different.

All municipal school board members are non-partisan.  When someone in Decatur, Birmingham or Dothan run for their local school board they don’t run as a Republican or Democrat.

We need to do the same for county boards.

Here is how it could work.

There were votes for five different board seats in Montgomery on June 5.  District 1 had a Democrat primary but the incumbent Republican was unopposed and will run in November.  District 2 had five candidates in both Democrat and Republican primaries.  District 3 only had two Democrats running.  District 5 had two Republicans and four Democrats, while District 6 had five Democrats.

So all candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, would have been listed on the respective district ballots as non-partisan.    For instance, in District 2, where I ran, ballots given to both Republican and Democrat primary voters would have had all five candidates listed together with instructions to vote for one.  If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters would then face each other in the general election.

District 2 had a total of 5,043 votes cast in both primaries.  Ted Lowry lead all candidates with 2,186 votes.  I got 896, Democrats Brenda Irby got 833, Clare Weil got 741 and Misty Messick had 387.  Since Lowry did not get a majority on June 5, he and I would run again in November.

This is not to imply that had all 5,043 voters had the chance to vote for any one of the five candidates that the end result would’ve been the same.  For instance, I am certain Democrat Clare Weil would have gotten a number of Republican votes and I would have gotten some that went to a Democrat.  And for certain the dynamics of campaigns would have changed.

An open primary would be a more “honest” process because candidates would have to appeal to all potential voters, not just those who are most likely to vote either for a Democrat or a Republican.  You would not have what are basically white campaigns and black campaigns, but ones where all voters are considered equals in the first election.

District 5 was the only other district with both Republican and Democrat primaries.  A total of 7,394 votes were cast.  Republican Jannah Bailey got 3,075 votes, Republican Melissa Snowden got 1,967 and Democrats Rhonda Oats got 1,075, Devona Sims got 610, Carey Owens, Jr. got 427 and Dianelle Gross got 240.  Which means Bailey and Snowden would run again in November.

While we normally think that the top two vote getters usually run to see who comes out on top, under our present system, this is not the case.  Though Snowden and I got more votes on June 5 than any of the Democrats in our district, we were eliminated.

I am sure there will be people who claim my proposal is only because of how the June 5 election turned out, but that is not the case.  I strongly believe our present system puts too much focus on politics and too little on how schools should be governed.  Besides, we are already doing this for municipal school board elections.

I have run this idea by a number of Republican friends, especially legislators.  Not ONE has raised an objection.

All we need is one of the 140 members of the legislature to propose such a change.


A Close Look At State School Board Election In District 2

One of the most competitive elections in the July 17 runoff was between Tracie West of Auburn and Melanie Hill of Dothan to see who would be the Republican nominee and go against Democrat Adam Jortner in November.  Hill got the most votes on June 5 with 19,.677.  West was close behind with 18,963 while John Taylor of Dothan got 17,038 and Sybil Little of Coffee County got 4,159.

When the final votes were counted for the runoff, West eked out a win with 21,546 votes to Hill’s 20,917.

This is an odd-shaped district running from Madrid on the Alabama-Florida border in Houston County to Borden Springs, 20 miles north of Heflin on the other end.  It is definitely a north-south region with Barbour, Houston, Geneva, Coffee, Henry and Dale counties in the south and Cleburne, Clay, Randolph, Chambers, Russell, Lee and Tallapoosa in the north.

Incumbent Betty Peters was elected to this seat in 2002 and decided to not seek re-election.

West, a member of the Auburn city school board and Hill, a former member of the Dothan city school board, were the favorites going into June 5.  John Taylor of Houston County and Sybil Little of Coffee County were also contenders. Taylor ran a stronger race than most expected.  The fact that he is considered “hard right” on the political spectrum and got 28.5 percent of the primary vote makes a strong statement as to which way the political winds blow in this region.  In fact he was the top vote getter in Clay, Randolph and Russell counties on June 5.

As in most cases with campaigns, money was definitively a factor in the final outcome.  West had a clear advantage over Hill in this regard.  The most recent info from the Secretary of State’s website shows she spent $109,000,  She raised $60,000 and put in nearly an additional $63,000 herself.  She got $13,500 from the state realtors political action committee and $1,000 from the state home builders PAC.

By comparison, Hill spent almost $37,000 and raised $42,000.  She received $11,600 from the Alabama Farmers Federation and $15,000 from the Business Council of Alabama.

The north-south configuration of the district seemed to favor Hill in the runoff.  For instance, in the June 5 primary, 43.4 percent of the total vote came from Russell County and counties north of there.  Southern counties had 56.6 percent of the vote.  In addition, both Little and Taylor were from the south.

Turnout is always an issue in runoff elections as there are few races on the ballot.  Here again, due to the runoff for Congress in District 2 (which is configured differently than school board District 2) between Martha Roby and Bobby Bright, Hill had the advantage.  All  of the southern counties in the school board district (Barbour, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston) are in Congressional District 2.  The fact that the southern counties had 58.5 percent of the vote on July 17 (as compared to 56.6 on June 5) proved this advantage.

So West had to “hold serve” in the north end of the district, while making inroads in the south, to win on July 17.  To her credit, she did just that.  She won all seven northern counties in the runoff, plus also won Barbour and Coffee.

West’s financial advantage was evident in the runoff as she spent $23,544 while Hill spent only $9,229.  This enabled her to call on campaign consultants in Lexington, KY who have also helped state board member Cynthia McCarty and Secretary of State John Merrill.

(Editor’s note:  The key issue in the runoff appeared to be Common Core, with West contending that she has opposed this longer than Hill had.  Evidence also shows that West aligned herself with staunch anti-Common Core foes.  Given that West chairs the Auburn City school system board, one of the best and most progressive systems in Alabama, I have a hard time understanding this move.

This would mean that West would like to abolish the Alabama College & Career Ready standards which would mean throwing away millions of dollars spent on training teachers and making adaptations.  Right now the state is trying to development a new statewide assessment instrument to replace ACT Aspire.  This effort would have to be shelved.  So we would spend probably five years and untold monies to get new standards and a new assessment.

I have emailed West asking for an explanation of her position, but have had no response)

West will face Adam Jortner of Auburn in the November general election..