1 year 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.”

 

11 hours ago

Are you afraid to answer the phone?

Millions of Americans fear answering their phone due to a plague of billions of robocalls. These calls have made a mockery of the national Do Not Call Registry and touch on several public policy questions.

We had seemingly ended the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls. Congress authorized the Do Not Call Registry in 2003 after more than a decade of calls disrupting the peace and quiet of our homes. Fines of $11,000 per violation largely put telemarketing companies, with hundreds of thousands of employees, out of business.

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Why have unwanted calls returned? VOIP technology (voice over internet protocol) allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to make thousands of calls. A handful of responses can make thousands of calls worthwhile when the cost is almost zero. Furthermore, technology makes robocallers mobile and elusive.

By contrast, telemarketing firms employed hundreds of people at call centers. The authorities could find and fine telemarketers. Firms had to comply with the Do Not Call registry, even if forced out of business.

Technology further frustrates the control of robocalls. Spoofing makes a call appear to be from a different number. Spoofing a local number increases the chance of someone answering, defeats caller ID, and makes identifying the calls’ source difficult.

By contrast, technology allowed the elimination of spam email. It’s easy to forget that fifteen years ago spam threatened the viability of email. Email providers connected accounts to IP addresses and eventually identified and blocked spammers. Google estimates that spam is less than 0.1 percent of Gmail users’ emails.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned almost all robocalls in 2009 (political campaigns and schools were excepted). Yet the volume of calls and complaints from the public rise every year. And the “quality” of the solicitations is lower: legitimate businesses employed telemarketers, while most robocalls seem to be scams.

Telephone companies and entrepreneurs are deploying apps and services to block robocalls. The robocallers then respond, producing a technological arms race. The technology of this arms race, however, is beyond me.

I’d rather consider some issues robocalls raise. The root of the problem is some people’s willingness to swindle others. Although we all know there are some bad people in the world, free market economists typically emphasize the costs and consequences of government regulations over the cheats and frauds who create the public’s demand for regulation. People can disagree whether a level of fraud warrants regulation, but free marketers should not dismiss the fear of swindlers.

Robocalls also highlight the enormous inefficiency of theft. Thieves typically get 25 cents on the dollar (or less) when selling stolen goods. Getting $1,000 via theft requires stealing goods worth $4,000 or more. In addition, thieves invest time and effort planning and carrying out crimes, while we invest millions in locks, safes, burglar alarms, and police departments to protect our property. America would be much richer if we did not have to protect against thieves or robocallers.

Finally, having the government declare something illegal does not necessarily solve a problem. Our politicians like to pass a law or regulation and announce, “problem solved.” Identifying and punishing robocallers is difficult; the FTC had only brought 33 cases in nearly ten years. And less than ten percent of the over $300 million in fines and relief for consumers levied against robocallers had been collected. Government has no pixie dust which magically solves hard problems.

The difficulty of enforcing a law or regulation does not necessarily imply we should not act. The Federal Communications Commission, for instance, recently approved letting phone companies block unwanted calls by default, and perhaps this will prove effective. We should weigh the costs of laws and regulations against a realistic projection of benefits and laws failing to solve problems as promised should be revised or repealed.
Still, a law that accomplishes little can have value. Cursing robocalls accomplishes little yet can be cathartic. A law that costs little might provide us satisfaction until technology solves the problem.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Culverhouse vs. UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Why did the media get the story with Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. and Alabama so wrong?

— Is the Iowa slap-fight between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden a 2020 preview?

— Now that former ALEA head Spencer Collier has settled his case with the state over his firing, is the sordid Bentley saga over?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) to discuss medical marijuana, the prison special session and the lottery.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” that calls out Joe Biden for lying about the lack of lies and scandals in the Obama administration.

VIDEO: Culverhouse/UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Sunday, June 16, 2019

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

Alabama team targets international connections at SelectUSA Investment Summit

Alabama is home to a diverse lineup of international companies, and the state’s business recruiters are looking to expand those ranks.

The economic development team is in Washington D.C. at the 2019 SelectUSA Investment Summit, which starts today and is the premier foreign direct investment (FDI) event in the U.S.

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FDI is a significant part of Alabama’s economy. Last year alone, it came from 16 different countries, for a total of $4.2 billion in investment and 7,520 new and future jobs.

Since 2013, the state has attracted $12.8 billion in FDI, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. It’s spread across a variety of sectors, including automotive, aerospace and bioscience.

“Team Alabama is looking to capitalize on a record-breaking year for FDI in the state, by continuing to build partnerships with world-class international companies looking to grow in the U.S.,” said Vince Perez, a project manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.

SHOWCASING ALABAMA

SelectUSA is led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and its annual summit regularly attracts top industry leaders and investors from around the globe. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 2,800 attendees from more than 70 international markets and 49 U.S. states and territories.

Participants of the past five summits have announced $103.6 billion in greenfield FDI in the U.S. within five years of attending, supporting more than 167,000 U.S. jobs.

“We are excited to have another opportunity to showcase Alabama’s vibrant business climate that’s been cultivated over the years through business-friendly policies,” Perez said.

“This year’s Investment Summit is very timely as we will be armed with the recently passed Incentives Modernization Act, which upgraded our already-strong incentive tool kit, making us more marketable than ever.”

The measure targets counties that have had slower economic growth. In particular, it expands the number of rural counties that qualify for investment and tax credit incentives. It also enhances incentives for technology companies.

Joining the Commerce Department at the SelectUSA Summit are PowerSouth, the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Power Co., and Spire.

Speakers at the summit will include key government and industry leaders who will discuss opportunities in a broad range of areas and industries, such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and technology.

FDI supports nearly 14 million American jobs, and it is responsible for $370 billion in U.S. goods exports. The U.S. has more FDI than any other country, topping $4 trillion.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

A ‘Story Worth Sharing’: Yellowhammer News and Serquest partner to award monthly grants to Alabama nonprofits

Christmas is the season of giving, helping others and finding magic moments among seemingly ordinary (and occasionally dreary) days. What better way to welcome this season than to share what Alabamians are doing to help others?

Yellowhammer News and Serquest are partnering to bring you, “A Story Worth Sharing,” a monthly award given to an Alabama based nonprofit actively making an impact through their mission. Each month, the winning organization will receive a $1,000 grant from Serquest and promotion across the Yellowhammer Multimedia platforms.

Yellowhammer and Serquest are looking for nonprofits that go above and beyond to change lives and make a difference in their communities.

Already have a nonprofit in mind to nominate? Great!

Get started here with contest guidelines and a link to submit your nomination:

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Nominations are now open and applicants only need to be nominated once. All non-winning nominations will automatically be eligible for selection in subsequent months. Monthly winners will be announced via a feature story that will be shared and promoted on Yellowhammer’s website, email and social media platforms.

Submit your nomination here.

Our organizations look forward to sharing these heartwarming and positive stories with you over the next few months as we highlight the good works of nonprofits throughout our state.

Serquest is an Alabama based software company founded by Hammond Cobb, IV of Montgomery. The organization sees itself as, “Digital road and bridge builders in the nonprofit sector to help people get where they want to go faster, life’s purpose can’t wait.”

Learn more about Serquest here.

15 hours ago

Alabama Power wins Electric Edison Institute awards for power restoration efforts following Hurricane Michael

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) awarded Alabama Power with the EEI “Emergency Assistance Award” and the  “Emergency Recovery Award” for its outstanding power restoration efforts after Hurricane Michael hit Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in October 2018.
The Emergency Assistance Award and Emergency Recovery Award are given to EEI member companies to recognize their efforts to assist other electric companies’ power restoration efforts, and for their own extraordinary efforts to restore power to customers after service disruptions caused by severe weather conditions or other natural events. The winners are chosen by a panel of judges following an international nomination process.

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Alabama Power received the awards during the EEI 2019 annual conference.

Alabama Power’s extraordinary efforts were instrumental to restoring service for customers across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida quickly and safely,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “We are pleased to recognize the dedicated crews from Alabama Power for their work to restore service in hazardous conditions and to assist neighboring electric companies in their times of need.”

Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to make landfall during the 2018 hurricane season, was a Category 5 hurricane with peak winds of 160 mph. The storm hit Mexico Beach, Fla., on October 10 before being downgraded to a tropical storm and traveling northeast through Georgia and several Mid-Atlantic states. Alabama Power sent more than 1,400 lineworkers and 700 trucks to help restore service to customers over the course of two and a half months.

Hurricane Michael also resulted in 89,438 service outages in Alabama Power’s territory. Due to their tireless work, Alabama Power’s crews restored power to 100 percent of customers within four days after the storm, dedicating more than 124-thousand hours to the recovery.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)