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.