If one digs deep enough, combs through public records and connects dots that are scattered far and wide they come to a point where a politician’s DNA becomes as clear as a fingerprint on a newly-washed glass.
Such is the case with Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, who was appointed chair of the House Education Policy Committee beginning in 2014 by convicted Speaker Mike Hubbard. Hubbard devotes several pages of his book, Storming The Statehouse, to how he recruited and helped Collins in her first run for the legislature in 2010.
He even recounts how he got Governor Bob Riley to call Collins from New York City to stroke her ego. Collins ran in the Republican primary and defeated Jason Putman by only 297 votes. Hubbard told her the state Republican party would not get involved in the primary, but if she won, she would have their wholehearted support in the general election.
Hubbard was true to his word. Collins raised $24,950 from individuals for the primary and only $3,300 from political action committees. But it was an entirely different case in the general election where Collins faced Democrat Drama Breland.
This time she got $102,400 from PACs. Friends of Mike Hubbard gave her $5,000 and the Business Council of Alabama chipped in with $35,000. She paid David Azbell, the co-author of Hubbard’s book, $18,000, and also spent nearly $5,000 with Craftmaster Printing of Auburn, a name that came up frequently in the recent Hubbard trial.
Though Breland was well-funded, she was not able to keep pace with Collins in the fall of 2010 and Collins got 56 percent of the vote in a year when Democrats lost early and often.
By this time the Collins’ political DNA was coming into view. She had clearly aligned herself with both Hubbard and BCA. In recent years BCA has consistently opposed public education. They support the Alabama Accountability Act and its vouchers, they created the Business Education Alliance which touts the ill-advised mantra, “run schools like a business,” worked for charters schools and the 2016 RAISE Act.
Collins has been in their camp from day one.
(It is also noteworthy that Collins got $1,000 for her 2010 primary from Charlotte Meadows of Montgomery, until recently a lobbyist for StudentsFirst of Sacremento, CA.)
By the time Collins kicked off her re-election bid in June of 2013 she had adopted the mindset of most politicians and looked to special interests to get her elected again.
Of the $245,000 she raised in contributions and in-kind support for the 2014 election, 79 percent came from political action committees.
PACS controlled by BCA, former Governor Bob Riley (Alabama 2014) and Speaker Hubbard collectively spent $5.1 million on 2014 elections. Each gave generously to Collins. None of them could be considered supportive of public education.
In addition, two new groups showed up in Alabama in 2014. One was StudentsFirst from California, the other was the Alabama Federation for Children. Both are decidedly anti-public schools, both supported Collins. It is impossible to track the source of funding for StudentsFirst since they file no reports with the Alabama Secretary of State. However, AFC does and ALL of their support has come from out-of-state millionaires.
Collins faced former Alabama Education Association employee Rex Cheatham in the 2014 general election. Though well-supported by AEA, Collins dispatched Cheatham handily, 60 percent to 40 percent.
But if you do your homework well, financial reports often tell you much more than just who is trying to elect a candidate. You learn who they look to for advice and counsel.
Example, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is very active in “corporate education reform” and created the Foundation for Excellence in Education when he left office. This group has been oft-criticized for being too cozy with large education vendors and their ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. (ALEC)
Collins shows that she has apparently was reimbursed by both FEE and ALEC for trips. She is listed on the ALEC web site as co-chair for Alabama and has used campaign funds to pay dues to this organization.
Legislators must file annual reports in non-election years. These often make interesting reading as it is not uncommon to see campaign money used to buy college football tickets, pay for utilities and to even buy groceries.
In the case of Rep. Collins, records show that since Jan. 19, 2011 she has made payments of $4,668 to the Decatur Rotary Club. During my career, I was a member of several civic clubs. I always paid dues out of my own pocket.
Since becoming a member of the legislature Collins has sponsored several pieces of education legislation. In 2012 she passed a bill to give every school in the state a letter grade ranging from A to F. This is supposed to go on line this year, in spite of the fact that it has received a great deal of criticism from researchers and several states have pulled back on using it. Alabama has invested a great deal of time and human capital trying to comply with this bill.
She also sponsored a charter school bill and a bill to take charter school commission appointments away from the State School Board. Neither passed. In the 2016 regular session she passed a bill allowing adjustments in location of central offices for large school sytems. She also supported a bill to create a statewide Longitudinal Data Center and to give the governor authority to appoint the state superintendent of education. They did not pass.
She is a staunch supporter of charter schools and the Alabama Accountability Act. And Alabama has appropriated $3.3 million to Alabama Teach for America in the last six years at the urging of Collins.
Taking the broad view of evidence at hand, it is difficult to claim that Bob Riley, BCA, Mike Hubbard, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, StudentsFirst, the Alabama Federation for Children and ALEC are staunch supporters of public schools.
Yet, they are all part of the DNA of Rep. Terri Collins. Need more be said?