To set a trap, you must have the right bait. It might be an attractive young female with a low-cut blouse. It might be the promises of fistfuls of $100 bills.
Or it might even be an over-weight, balding 75-year-old guy. You know. Like me.
The idea bubbled up last fall when I learned that my own Montgomery County school board seat would not have an incumbent running in 2018.
I know that some of the things I say on my blog in defense of public education and in opposition to things like the Alabama Accountability Act and A-F school report cards do not sit well with some powerful folks who want to force their own will on Alabama schools.
They don’t like that this blog gets 250,000 views a year and is endorsed enthusiastically by hundreds and hundreds of educators.
Sure, in general I knew who they were, but how far would they go to silence me and who would they pull into their inner circle to help them do so?
I wanted more.
I wanted names and to connect dots and to get a clear picture of those who claim to want better schools—but in fact really don’t.
What if I ran for office? Like a local school board seat? How desperate would some folks be to stop me?
June 5 there were elections in 31 counties to fill 46 local school board seats. As it turned out, there were 130 candidates running for these slots. If only ONE of them drew the wrath of certain parties, it would stick out like a sore thumb.
So, on January 29, I qualified to run for District Two on the Montgomery County school board and sat back to watch this little drama unfold.
I had the credentials to be bono fide candidate. Of the 130 who ran on June 5, I was the only one endorsed by Dr. Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education; had done research on rural high poverty schools; served on the boards of the Network for Public Education and the national Rural Schools Collaborative; chaired the advisory board for Alabama HIPPY (Home instruction for Parents of Pre-school Youngsters; been recognized by the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools for service to public education and put together the funding to create the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama.
Any attack against me could not be built on lack of qualifications. It would have to be centered around deception and outright lies. And I would have the opportunity to gather names of who was doing what and how were they intertwined.
It didn’t take long.
By election time I knew that not only my lone Republican opponent TOOK the bait, but so did the Business Council of Alabama, a former board member of the Montgomery school system, a PAC with $72,000 to rail against local educators, a former member of the state House of Representatives, at least one contract lobbyist and someone trying to establish a news blog.
Too many loose lips and internet trails gave the game away. It was amateur hour for the bad guys.
First came a challenge at the local level to me running as a Republican. I responded by explaining that the only office I have ever been elected to was 50 years ago when I was on the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee. I also showed that I gave money to Republican candidates.
This committee voted unanimously that I remain on the ballot.
However, this decision was ignored and another “challenge” was mounted. This time one-time house member Perry Hooper, Jr. wrote a letter on April 26 to the state GOP chair protesting my candidacy.
At least he signed the letter. But he did not prepare it or any of the supporting “evidence.” In fact, he told a friend that someone gave it all to him.
All indications are that it was done by Josh Blades, a contract lobbyist who hangs his hat at the Montgomery law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLC. Blades was once deputy chief of staff for Governor Bob Riley and later chief of staff for Speaker Mike Hubbard. He left Hubbard in 2014 to become a lobbyist.
He has listed BCA as a client since 2015. He also represented StudentsFirst, the group begun by former Washington, DC school chief Michelle Rhee that touted vouchers and charter schools as a panacea for public school ills. Another client is the American Federation for Children, the creation of Betsy DeVos that has brought mega bucks of outside money to Alabama for campaigns.
We do know that Blades was digging up other “opposition research” on me.
Will Fuller, another lobbyist, asked Hooper to go along with this plan. This is the same Will Fuller who was helping my opponent, Ted Lowry, and who stopped by a press conference June 4 to spy.
Hooper told Pat Wilson, Montgomery GOP chair, on May 5 that Fuller brought the info to him. (That was the same day Hooper also told Wilson that he had never gotten money from the Alabama Education Association–which was totally untrue.)
In reality, this was a “fake” challenge since the person who signed off on it was not the person who came up with it. He was just someone’s “gofer.”
The “case” was built around the fact that I voted in the Democratic primary in the special election for U.S. Senate in 2017, that I ran for office as a Democrat, that I made contributions to Democrats and that I had once had a contract with the Alabama Education Association.
All of which is true.
I was not going to vote for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in 2017. So, I voted in the Democrat primary. The irony is that had I voted in the Republic primary and then voted for Doug Jones in the general election, no one would have said a thing—though I would have betrayed the oath I would have made by voting in the Republican primary.
I was faulted for being honest.
Yes, I ran for office as a Democrat which puts me in the company of people like Governor Kay Ivey, Senator Richard Shelby and gracious knows how many more.
As to giving money to candidates, I am an equal opportunity giver. I have donated to former Congressman Jo Bonner, Congress lady Martha Roby and gave $1,000 in 2016 to a Republican candidate for the state school board.
I started this blog in April, 2015. Other than less than about $1,000 contributed by readers, I foot the cost of travel, supplies, internet connection, etc. When Henry Mabry was head of AEA, I ran into him one day at the statehouse. He said he enjoyed my blog and asked who paid for it.
“No one,” I said. He said that AEA could pay me $2,000 per month to keep on doing what I was doing. Being that my only retirement income is a social security check, I gladly took it. I don’t recall how long this continued, but it stopped a long time ago.
Another irony. While Hooper complained about me getting money from AEA, he was doing the same thing at the same time. He, his father and his brother were collectively getting $16,000 a month from AEA. I have the documentation, which Hooper has now acknowledged.
This so-called challenge also failed when a conference call of state GOP steering committee members denied its viability.