2 years ago

Once toxic in Republican circles, teachers union money pours into GOP primaries

Campaign money from Alabama’s largest teachers union used to be so toxic in Republican circles that it triggered a party rule — still in effect — discouraging candidates from accepting donations from the organization.

No more.

In the 2018 election cycle, the Alabama Education Association has been a major player in Republican primaries. The union’s political action committee, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education, or AVOTE, has dumped $604,500 into Republican campaigns.

That is actually slightly more than the total that the PAC has contributed to Democratic campaigns. The union could help determine dozens of nominees in Tuesday’s GOP primary.


Political observers contend that deluge of cash simply reflects the reality of a state that has marched significantly toward the Republican Party over the past two decades.

“Obviously, they’ve got to take account of partisan changes that have benefited Republicans,” said University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart.

Representatives from the Alabama Education Association declined to be interviewed for this story.

The Alabama Education Association for years operated essentially as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party — or given its enormous influence, perhaps the other way around. At any rate, the party and union shared office space and its longtime head, the late Paul Hubbert, simultaneously served as vice chairman of the party.

That cozy relationship prompted the Alabama Republican Party to play hardball after the party won control of the state Legislature, passing a rule in 2013 banning contributions to the party from the National Education Association or any of its affiliates.

The ban was not binding on candidates, but the bylaws state that, “Officeholders and candidates are strongly admonished to follow the same rule and, because the NEA is a veritable adjunct of the Democratic Party, failure to heed this admonition shall be regarded negatively by the Committee.”

Terry Lathan, chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, said the party is bound to remain neutral in primaries. She said the party reserves the right to speak out about AEA donations, but she added that she trusts voters to sort it out.

“We hope voters will decide to make that decision if they want to make it part of the processes,” she said.

Some Republicans critical

AEA contributions have drawn criticism from some Republican candidates, however. Former Shelby County Commissioner Ted Crockett, who is challenging incumbent state Rep. Dickie Drake (R-Leeds), criticized his opponent for accepting $25,000 from the union.

“They’ve been pouring money into his campaign. … These people like the AEA have been trying to weedle their way into the Republican Party and gain control in secret,” he said.

Crockett said he decided to run because Drake supports raising taxes and cited a bill the incumbent sponsored to put a school property tax hike for the Leeds city school system on the November ballot.

Drake said he opposed raising taxes but agreed to sponsor the referendum in order to give city residents the opportunity to make the decision.

As for AEA, Drake said he considers the party bylaw to be outdated.

“The face of the AEA has completely changed,” he said. “Now, we’re working much more closely with them.”

Jess Brown, an Athens State University political scientist in north Alabama, agreed the AEA is not the same organization it was during the Democratic Party’s halcyon days. Alabama has “shifted from a one-party state that had a ‘D’ in front of it to a one-party state that has an ‘R,’ he said.

The AEA is not the only traditional Democratic money source that has spread donations to Republicans. A PAC associated with the state’s trial lawyers has contributed to a number of Republican candidates this year, most notably Supreme Court chief justice candidate Tom Parker.

“If Paul Hubbert were alive today, I have no doubt he would be dropping huge amounts of money in Republican primaries. … They’re either gonna play ball in the Republican Party or they’re not gonna have influence in Montgomery,” Brown said.

In addition to directly contributing to candidates, the AEA has supported others indirectly. The AVOTE PAC this year has spent more than $100,000 on advertising costs.

Some of those funds have paid for fliers promoting the candidacy of Sam Givhan over Mary Scott Hunter for an open state Senate seat in District 7 in the Huntsville area. Givhan has not received any direct contributions from the PAC.

Givhan could not be reached for comment.

Hunter focuses on ‘positive, conservative message’

Hunter, who currently serves on the state Board of Education, said in a statement that she is focusing on keeping trained on a “positive, conservative message” in the closing days of the campaign.

“This is the time that backbones can begin to weaken in a campaign and mistakes are made,” she stated. “As for me and my team, we will remain disciplined and on-message through election day, and we’ll have a campaign we can be proud of.”

In the Shelby County House race, Crockett lambasted a different PAC, called the Alabama Federation for Children, which has spent $25,758 in mailers attacking his candidacy. The group, an offshoot of the American Federation for Children, promotes school choice for low-income families.

The chairman of the board, William E. Oberndorf, is a wealthy hedge fund manager from California who supported Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential bids in 2008 and 2012 and backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP primaries. But he told The New York Times that he would support Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump.

Crockett said the mailers make an unfair and untrue allegation that as a member of the County Commission, he led an effort to sell a municipal sewer system to Southwest Water Corp. He said he, in fact, opposed the sale.

Crockett blamed Drake for the attacks.

“He’s got a problem, so he’s attacked me,” he said.

Drake said he has nothing to do with the mailers and had not even heard of the PAC until a reporter told him Thursday night. He said his campaign was positive until he was forced to respond.

“It was never negative until he told a pack of lies about me two weeks ago,” he said.

Such intra-party squabbles likely will become more common the longer the Republican Party remains dominant, said Brown, the Athens State political scientist. He said the Democrats for years had various competing factions.

Lathan, the party chairwoman, said the GOP is in a strong position — even if a side effect is occasional difficulties maintaining party unity.

“At some point, we hope that people who run for office are good, patriot, servants who want to serve their counties and state through a conservative lens,” she said.

Stewart, the University of Alabama political scientist, said it is not surprising that Republicans are taking money from an organization they once shunned.

“Candidates need money badly, and I just think they’re flexible,” he said. “We don’t have permanent enemies. We have enemies at one time who later become friends.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

2 hours ago

Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Alabama Power Foundation didn’t exist, especially for the dozens of organizations throughout the state that have advanced with its support.

For three decades, the foundation has looked for ways to elevate Alabama and boost communities through charitable giving, giving back more than $230 million to the communities that Alabama Power serves.

“Since our founding 30 years ago, we have prided ourselves in being a catalyst for change and for service to the state of Alabama,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizations that focus on education, the environment, health and human service, civic and community, arts and culture and other areas have benefited.

“We really enable our partner agencies to do what they do best,” Calhoun said. “So, when we talk about our success, really it’s their success that we’re proud of.”

Success like that the Literacy Council of Central Alabama has enjoyed.

“Ever since (our founding), Alabama Power Foundation has been a really strong supporter,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. “We couldn’t be where we are without the Alabama Power Foundation’s long-standing support.”

Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said the Alabama Power Foundation doesn’t just give money but takes an active role in ensuring programs are successful.

“Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power Company have been a big supporter of ours since day one and over the years provided a lot of funding that really allows us to grow our mission, which is to create great schools for every child,” Dixon said. “We do two programs in schools – the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready – and part of that is expanding great training for teachers and advanced placement programs for students. Alabama Power helped us fund those as a partner from the very beginning.”

Calhoun said the foundation’s mission fits in with the history of Alabama Power, with the ultimate goal of elevating the state.

“We believe and it is our hope that what we do creates a platform that makes economic development and community development and, really, the health and vitality of the state a bit easier,” she said. “And that’s what gets us going every day and that’s what makes us think strategically about the work that we do. And that’s what helps us to empower the agencies who day in and day out are doing the hard work in the communities where we serve.”

Grant recipients talk about the importance of Alabama Power Foundation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Alabama-built USS Mobile christened in its namesake city — ‘Best that America has to offer’

MOBILE — At Austal USA’s world-class shipbuilding facility in its namesake city, the future USS Mobile (LCS 26) was christened on Saturday in front of a crowd of thousands of attendees.

The future USS Mobile is an Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) currently under construction in Alabama’s Port City.

Dignitaries, Austal employees, community leaders and U.S. Navy personnel attended the ceremony, which was set alongside — and, for part of the crowd, under — the ship in a massive construction bay.

A symbiotic mixture of patriotism and local pride was the theme of the day, which while celebratory in the trademark Mobile fashion, also turned somber at moments, as the reality of what the ship symbolizes hit home.

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A family tradition

A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the program to honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, as well as all of the service members who have, continue to and will put themselves in harm’s way for our nation.

Later, to begin his remarks, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) called for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.

“A loss anywhere in the Navy family is a loss for all of us,” he said.

Family was indeed a major component of the day.

Byrne’s wife, Rebecca, is the ship’s sponsor. Their three daughters are the ship’s matrons of honor, which, as the congressman afterward explained, means that one of them would take over in Mrs. Byrne’s stead if she became unable to continue her duties as sponsor.

“So as long as this ship’s in the United States Navy, a Byrne woman will take care of it, I guarantee you,” he added.

Both Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne come from storied naval lineage.

In fact, the congressman’s grandmother worked at a Mobile shipbuilding company during World War II, one of many “Rosie the Riveters” who were cranking out one Liberty ship for the Navy every week in Alabama during that war.

That grandmother was herself made a sponsor of a Navy ship, the Afoundria, after her Merchant Marine son, the congressman’s uncle, was lost at sea in 1943 after his ship was sunk by a German U-boat.

Mrs. Byrne explained that one of her relatives was a U.S. Naval officer who served on over 30 missions to the Arctic in the early 1900s, including Admiral Peary’s famed expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Additionally, Mrs. Byrne’s great grandfather was a ship captain from Nova Scotia.

And, just this year, one of the Byrnes’ daughters married a Navy surface warfare officer.

History aside, the Navy is now very much part of the family’s present.

Mrs. Byrne commented, “I know now what it means to be a Navy family, which makes this day even more special for me.”

A city of builders

While the Byrnes have long-running ties to the open seas, so too does the city of Mobile have a storied history of excellence in shipbuilding.

From building the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink a ship, in 1863 to Alabama Dry Dock and Ship Building Company’s historic work from 1917 until well into the 1970s to what Austal USA is accomplishing today, Mobile has made its mark by making ships.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, speaking on Saturday, remarked, “We are a city of makers, of builders, innovators and inventors.”

Austal is now the prime contractor for two cutting-edge U.S. Navy ships: the Independence-variant LCS and the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF).

To date, Austal has delivered 10 of 14 contracted EPFs and 10 of 19 contracted LCS to the Navy, making the company’s Mobile facility the nation’s fifth-largest shipyard in the process. These 20 ships have been delivered just in the past five years, and Saturday marked the third christening in 2019 alone.

The Independence-variant LCS is a high-speed, shallow draft multi-mission ship capable of operating independently or in a group. These ships are designed to defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance along coastal waters. A fast, maneuverable, and networked surface-combatant, LCS provides the required warfighting capabilities and operational flexibility to execute focused missions such as surface warfare, mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare.

Austal USA president Craig Perciavalle stated, “We are blessed to have christened so many ships through the years, but this one is special. It is a distinct privilege to build a ship named after your namesake city and this has truly been a community effort. The support we have received from Senator (Richard) Shelby, Senator (Doug) Jones, Congressman Byrne, the county and city has been incredible and has played a major role in our success to date.”

“With incredible speed, volume, flexibility and firepower, Mobile will be the coolest, most formidable small surface combatant on the planet, one that meets the needs of the Navy of today, while having the adaptability to meet the needs of the Navy of tomorrow — a ship that will represent the best that America has to offer across the globe for decades,” he added.

While LCS 26 will become the fifth USS Mobile in history, the ship will be the first of its name to actually be built in Mobile. Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in September of 2016 authorized the naming.

Stimpson stressed, “Our community is profoundly grateful for this tribute.”

The first USS Mobile was a side-wheel steamer that operated as a Confederate government operated blockade runner. It was captured by U.S. forces at New Orleans in April 1862, commissioned as Tennessee and later renamed Mobile.

The second Mobile was reportedly a passenger liner operated by Hamburg Amerika Lines between Germany and the United States until the outbreak of World War I. It was taken over by the Allied Maritime Council and assigned to the U.S. after the Armistice and commissioned March 1919.

The third Mobile (CL 63) was commissioned March 24, 1943. It participated in numerous campaigns in the Pacific during World War II and received 11 battle stars for her service by the time she was decommissioned in May of 1947.

The fourth Mobile (LKA 115) was an amphibious cargo ship that served from September 1969 until decommissioning in February of 1994. The captain of that vessel was actually in attendance at the christening on Saturday.

‘Fair winds and following seas’

Each speaker during Saturday’s program gave their version of wishing the future crew members of LCS 26, some of which were in the crowd — including the future first captain of the ship, protection in their travels and service to come. This included Perciavalle, Stimpson, Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne, as well as: Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of maritime and strategic systems for General Dynamics Missions Systems; Frederick J. Stefany III, principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition; Vice Admiral John G. Hannink, judge advocate general of the Navy; and Pastor Chris Bell of 3Circle Church.

“I wish you fair winds and following seas,” Rep. Byrne said. “Let me add, as we Irish say, may God hold you in the palm of His hand. And to you all, may God bless you, may God bless our great United States Navy and may God bless the United States of America.”

After Bell gave the invocation for the ship, Mrs. Byrne formally blessed the future USS Mobile through breaking a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow — as is a time-honored Navy tradition.

In his closing remarks, Stimpson presented the future crew members with a key to the city, which will always sail with LCS 26.

“I want to convey that this ship will sail with the support of our entire city,” the mayor emphasized, saying its future crew members should all consider themselves honorary Mobilians.

Stimpson concluded, “My prayer is that this ship and all who sail upon her will always have the protection of the Holy Spirit [and] the bay upon which she was built, for there is no greater protection.”

You can watch a live stream of the event here.

Read more in Yellowhammer’s live-tweet thread from the event here.

The future USS Mobile is slated to launch in the spring of 2020, after which it will undergo acceptance trials. Upon completion of these trials, the ship would subsequently be delivered to the U.S. Navy and an official commissioning, expected in 2021, would then be held.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

18 hours ago

Alabama’s Hangout Music Festival announces initial 2020 lineup

The Hangout Music Festival, the three-day music event at Gulf Shores, announced the lineup for its 11th annual event to take place May 15-19, 2020.

Here are the artists scheduled to attend:

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The 2020 Hangout will once again include access to beach clubs and Hammock Beach along with beach volleyball, yoga, disco skating at the full-sized Roller Rink. Camp Hangout, dance parties and other activities are among the offerings. Get a full list here.

Tickets go on sale Monday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. with a variety of ticket offerings ranging from general admission to a host of VIP options – all-inclusive VIP, Super VIP, Big Kahuna and Cabana packages. Visit here for details on ticket packages and prices.

Fans can purchase presale tickets via American Express or Tunespeak. The AMEX presale starts Friday, Dec. 6 at 8 a.m. and is open to all American Express card holders. The Tunespeak presale starts Friday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. and customers can sign up for access at hangoutmusicfest.com. Both presales end Monday, Dec. 9 at 9:30 a.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

18 hours ago

Roy Moore pledges ‘commitment to God,’ rails against D.C. amid backdrop of vocal protesters

TUSCUMBIA — The sleepy county seat of northwestern Alabama’s Colbert County was a hotbed for politics early Saturday morning.

Around two dozen protesters showed up at the Helen Keller Public Library to voice their disapproval of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a candidate for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up next year, who was speaking to the Shoals Republican Club.

However, Moore did not allow those protesters armed with a bullhorn just a few feet and a windowpane away from thwarting his presentation to the Republican club.

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Despite chants of “Go to hell, Roy Moore,” “No more Roy Moore,” and “This is what democracy looks like,” the Etowah County Republican attempted to clarify his position on race and homosexuality.

“Now I’m accused of being a racist and homophobic,” Moore said. “I’m not scared of homosexuals. I don’t hate homosexuals. If I did, I couldn’t wear this cross on my lapel. You’re commanded to love people, but you’re also commanded to abhor sin, that which is evil. My position in this race is freedom of speech and truth. That’s why I’m running — a commitment to God. My sole purpose in life is to serve God. If he would have me in Washington, D.C., I will go — reluctantly, I will go because it is a different world.”

Moore pledged not to be dissuaded by protesters on the left or Washington, D.C. forces on the right in his second bid for the U.S. Senate in just the last two years.

“They hate me there. They have vowed to stop me. In fact, they said the last time around, they said it was a sprint. This is a marathon, said Jesse Hunt, the spokesman for the NRSC,” Moore said as he pointed at a tracker in the audience, urging him to send his statement to Hunt.

Moore also likened President Donald Trump’s impeachment travails to those of former President Andrew Johnson, who he argued was a victim of the radical Republicans of the time. He offered the audience assurances he would serve in the mold of former U.S. Sen. Edmund Ross (R-Kan.), who, despite being an opponent of Johnson, cast the deciding vote against Johnson’s removal from office in 1868, claiming loyalty to his oath to the Constitution.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

20 hours ago

Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab teaches more than science

For the staff at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), one mission stands above all: to help others love marine science as much as they do.

“We like to think the impact is life-lasting,” said Tina Miller-Way, chair of Discovery Hall Programs at DISL. “There are many students that don’t realize that we even exist, that the ocean even exists, so the impact stems from opening a student’s eyes. The impact is really seeing that lightbulb going off and having a good time while they’re doing it. That’s worth gold.”

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab makes science fun for all ages from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Miller-Way oversees Kindergarten-12 education efforts at DISL, which last year served hundreds of teachers through training workshops and 22,000 children through field trips, summer camps and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) competitions. DISL’s mobile classroom, BayMobile, also allows her staff to visit underserved schools across Alabama that do not have the opportunity or the means to visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on a field trip.

“Not every student learns in the same way,” Miller-Way said. “When you bring students out of that classroom and put them outside in the field or use a different modality of teaching, such as hands-on learning, you’re able to reach a different group of students or you’re able to reach students in a different way.”

DISL is Alabama’s primary marine education and research center, founded in 1971 by the Alabama Legislature to provide marine science programs for the state’s colleges and universities. Lee Smee, chair of University Programs, said DISL’s summer program for undergraduate students is now the largest of its kind in the country.

“We had 230 or so undergraduates here from all over the state (this past summer),” Smee said. “We have 23 different universities in Alabama that send people down here to work with us. That does a lot of good for the whole state.”

Smee said financial support from donors and businesses is helping his program and other programs at DISL grow. One example of that support is a $25,000 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation to help DISL purchase a new research vessel.

Alabama Power is really generous,” Smee said. “They gave us a $25,000 grant toward the purchase of a new research vessel. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation was able to raise the rest of the money, which they wouldn’t have been able to do without Alabama Power. That’s a huge boost for all of our programs.”

In addition to the two education programs, DISL operates the George F. Crozier Estuarium, a public aquarium specializing in estuarine organisms found throughout the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Miller-Way said every program is successful because the staff rallies around one simple goal: to increase ocean and environmental literacy among everyone they meet.

“The more minds and hands that are involved in designing and implementing these programs, the better the program is going to be,” Miller-Way said. “I love our staff. They are absolutely wonderful at what they do and we work very well together.”

For more information about the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, visit disl.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)