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AEA spends roughly $20 million of teachers’ money on disastrous election strategy

AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry (Photo: YouTube)
AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry (Photo: YouTube)

If June 4, 2014, the day after Alabama’s Primary Elections, was considered “rock bottom” for the Alabama Education Association (AEA), its embattled leader, Henry Mabry, must have immediately found a jackhammer and started digging, because five months later, the once powerful organization has somehow managed to reach a new low.

After spending roughly $7 million in the primaries, the AEA won zero statewide races, zero state senate races and only a handful of state house seats. They were successful in taking down incumbent Republican House members Richard Baughn (HD14), Wayne Johnson (HD22), Charles Newton (HD90), Bill Roberts (HD13) and Kurt Wallace (HD42), but it’s hard to see how AEA members could consider spending that much of their money to take out a few rank and file members of the House to be a reasonable return on their investment.

But after the General Election results started flowing in Tuesday night, the disastrous Primary suddenly started looking like a massive success in comparison.

The AEA did not win a single targeted race on Tuesday night. Not one.

They poured resources into taking out incumbent Republicans, including representatives Ken Johnson (HD7), Terri Collins (HD8) and Alan Booth (HD89) and senators Phil Williams (HD10) and Gerald Dial (SD13). They failed.

They pursued open seats in HD24 and HD37. They failed.

They spent well over a million dollars against each of the GOP’s top legislative leaders, House Speaker Mike Hubbard (HD79) and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (SD12). They failed.

They tried to fight off Republican challengers to Democratic state representatives Daniel Boman (HD16) and Greg Burdine (HD1). They failed.

The tried to defend one of their most reliable allies in the senate, 7-term incumbent Democrat Roger Bedford, in a race that few people thought was truly in play. They failed.

Combine the $10+ million of teachers’ dues AEA spent directly with the $4 million in loans they took out from Regions Bank and the untold millions they are widely believed to have funneled into so called “dark money” groups that did not disclose their donors, and what do you get?

Apparently not much.

But Tuesday night was even bigger than just the AEA’s spending, as obscene and ultimately ineffective as it was.

With the Alabama Democratic Party all but defunct, the AEA has long been the organization that other liberal groups looked to to lead the charge.

This election cycle, groups like Organizing for Action, formerly President Obama’s campaign operation; Empower Alabama, a voter engagement group manned by former Obama staffers; and Southern Progress Action Fund, an Arkansas-based liberal group bent on returning Democrats to power in the South, all followed AEA’s lead in Alabama, only to see their money and efforts wasted.

Not only did Republicans hold their supermajorities, they made them bigger. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate are now so large, in fact, that conservative reforms once considered unthinkable — even under Republican control — are now very likely to become policy priorities in the next legislative session.

More school choice? It’s coming. Teacher tenure reform? Here we go.

Alabama has what could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be a true model of conservative governance, and ironically, it might all be thanks to the scorched earth tactics the AEA and its affiliated organizations used, which ended up doing little more than banding together most of the Republicans in the Legislature in an unprecedented way.

Yellowhammer spoke with Sen. Del Marsh, the Republican leader of the senate, Tuesday night, and he made it clear that he wants to work closely with educators to improve schools in Alabama, but he sees no reason to include the AEA in that process.

“They AEA’s days are done,” he said bluntly. “We want to work with the education community to establish good education policies. We’re committed to that. We want to make sure our teachers are paid well. We want to make sure they have great benefits. But we can do all of that without the AEA union. Their mentality is ‘attack, attack, attack.’ I want to work with our state’s teachers directly, not with the AEA.”

With the AEA’s standing in the legislature in shambles, and internal dissent already spilling out publicly, the calls for new leadership inside the group are sure to be louder than ever, especially in the wake of Tuesday’s electoral disaster.

But considering the the success Republicans just had at the ballot box, they might end up rooting for Henry Mabry to stick around a while longer.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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