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Legislators share dissatisfaction with embattled BCA head Bill Canary

As embattled Business Council of Alabama CEO Bill Canary’s time as head of the organization is debated among insiders, some of the state’s heavy-hitters are expressing dissatisfaction with the leadership of the group.

State Sen. Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) told Yellowhammer News the BCA “is fantastic,” but its representation in Montgomery is not.

“The current leadership of BCA is a detriment to their agenda,” Blackwell said, adding that Canary’s “presence is just not there.”

“I can’t remember Billy coming to see me in my office,” said Blackwell, who has served for eight years and chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “I would say in eight years he talked to me one time on one issue.”

Blackwell said he believes that because Canary had good relationships with the former leadership structure of the legislature “he didn’t think he needed to build relationships with everybody else.”

Blackwell said that lawmakers who Canary previously ignored now don’t want to help him on issues. Columnist Steve Flowers, who served in the Alabama Legislature for 16 years, wrote in 2017 that “most GOP lawmakers vote against pro-business legislation because of Canary.”

For Canary, it may be a case of not if he will be asked to step down, but when. Alabama Political Reporter reported Thursday that an email chain among members of the BCA executive committee debated the timing, but agreed he should go.

Some of the largest members of the BCA, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Regions Bank, want Canary replaced by June 1, while BCA Chairman Perry Hand wants Canary to stay on until after the general election in November, according to the Alabama Political Reporter story.

BCA couldn’t be reached for comment.

Canary, a native of New York, has led the BCA since 2002, when Bob Riley helped put him in place after his election to the governorship. Under Canary’s leadership, BCA and its Progress PAC helped reduce business-harming regulations in the state, but some say his abrasive style lost its effectiveness after the Alabama Legislature became solidly Republican following the 2010 midterm elections.

Things really came to a head last summer when the BCA was accused of blackballing lawmakers by not inviting previously favored Republicans to its annual government affairs conference in Point Clear in August.

AL.com pointed out that many of those not invited had disagreements with the BCA during the 2017 legislative session.

Alabama Power chose not to participate in that conference and is also one of the BCA members calling for Canary to step down.

The most heated issue during the 2017 session was debate over a bill that would require larger employers to provide advanced autism therapies as part of their insurance coverage, which is mandated in nearly every other state.

Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), whose 15-year-old daughter is autistic, was among the leaders in fighting for the successful passage of the legislation and was also not invited to the conference.

“I was on one side of the issue and they were on the other,” Ward told Yellowhammer News. “There was some bad blood between us, no question. But we’ve sat down and had some meetings and we’re on good terms now.”

Others aren’t on as good of terms. Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) told AL.com that BCA is a “punitive organization.” Brewbaker is the senator who threatened to filibuster the remainder of the 2017 legislative session if the autism bill didn’t make it to the floor for a vote. It passed nearly unanimously in the Senate.

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who has fought against the BCA on issues he has described crony capitalism, also had ill words for the organization.

“There’s quite a few of us who tanked all their bull crap this year and now they’re mad at us,” he told AL.com last year before the conference.