11 months 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.”

 

Byrne: Alabama the Beautiful

As the weather continues to warm and summer temperatures approach, I am reminded of the incredible natural beauty that lies here in Alabama.

For many schools throughout Southwest Alabama, April marked Spring Break for students and teachers, and so many families take advantage of that time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors throughout our state.

As a hunter and outdoorsman, I know the importance of managing our wildlife areas and natural resources – private, family-owned and public lands – to ensure they are around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy for decades to come. That is why I have once again joined the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to protect and advance our national heritage of hunting, fishing, recreational shooting and trapping.

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As anyone who lives here knows, along the Gulf Coast we are blessed with an amazingly diverse and important ecosystem.

This week, I will be visiting the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort Morgan Peninsula to celebrate the completion of a significant land conservation effort within the Little Point Clear Unit. Bon Secour is home to countless species and is a favorite outdoor spot for many Southwest Alabamians.

Just across Mobile Bay, I’ll also have the privilege of participating in the Lightning Point Restoration Project groundbreaking in Bayou La Batre, another successful coastal restoration project made possible by local leadership and public-private partnerships.

With miles of trails and plenty to do and see, I am committed to preserving these important resources and habitats for future generations.

Just here in our backyard of Southwest Alabama, we also have Gulf State Park, Meaher State Park, Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, Frank Jackson State Park, dozens of walking trails, outdoor spaces and campgrounds.

It is up to us to take care of our area. Just a few weeks ago, Orange Beach was named the cleanest town in Alabama. What an accomplishment for Orange Beach residents!

It is also up to Congress to ensure that we take care of our natural resources as well. That is why I have continued to fight for just compensation in cases of natural disaster or human error.

The RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States) Act has provided funds for the cleanup from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that greatly impacted our shores and communities. It is important that the entirety of those funds are distributed as intended to the impacted communities and that such a disaster is not repeated in the future.

Similarly, I am grateful to President Trump for maintaining the funding for the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). This legislation provides for fair compensation to Alabama by creating revenue sharing provisions used for coastal conservation, restoration and hurricane protection.

Enjoying the beauty of mother nature along the coast also means having to recover when she turns violent.

We are unfortunately all too familiar with hurricanes and other violent storms in our area. Being prepared goes a long way to riding out the storm, but it is how we recover that defines the spirit of resilience that we have here in Alabama. When the worst does happen, I always fight to ensure that the people of Alabama have access to the necessary funds and resources to recover from those natural disasters.

I have lived my whole life in Alabama, and I believe we live in the most beautiful state in the country. Whenever I am out in nature with my kids and grandkids, hunting, fishing, or simply enjoying God’s creation, I understand why we call it “Alabama the Beautiful.”

This year, as the Spring turns into Summer, make sure you take time to enjoy nature and get out and enjoy our parks, history and everything Alabama has to offer.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

1 hour ago

Rebuild Alabama projects keep coming: Hwy 82 in Prattville and Hwy 411 in Cherokee County

Announcements of Rebuild Alabama infrastructure projects are starting to become an everyday occurrence.

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday outlined that the Alabama Department of Transportation has selected major transportation projects in Autauga and Cherokee counties as part of the Rebuild Alabama First Year Plan 2020.

“Drivers across Alabama have experienced the troubles of the state’s crumbling infrastructure for far too long. In selecting these projects in Autauga and Cherokee counties, we’re showing that stagnation is no longer the case in Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “For the ease of our drivers, for the safety of our drivers and for the future of our state, it’s finally time we Rebuild Alabama!”

This comes after announcements of significant projects for the Huntsville area and Tuscaloosa in recent days.

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In a cluster of Rebuild Alabama First Year Plan projects, ALDOT will widen U.S. Highway 82 in Prattville, a project that this area has long been awaiting for over 60 years. These enhancements to US 82 will shorten the daily commute of over 17,000 drivers and also complete the Prattville Bypass, according to the governor’s office.

Additionally, the widening of US 82 will improve access for loggers traveling to the International Paper plant from 18 Alabama counties. Six hundred workers from 23 Alabama counties will reportedly find increased ease in their work commutes, as this project improves access to the James Hardie Building Projects Facility and the other companies in the area.

State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), who carried the Rebuild Alabama Act in the Senate, lauded the announcement as a huge win for jobs and the community. He also emphasized that these types of projects will ultimately be transformational for the Yellowhammer State.

“These are the first steps of many that will begin the process of Rebuild Alabama. Industry is a backbone of our economic engine, and I am pleased that Governor Ivey is moving Alabama forward with these improvements,” Chambliss remarked. “I firmly believe that we will look back on 2019 as a turning point in the history of our state.”

State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville), who represents this project’s district in the House, voted against the Rebuild Alabama Act. A freshman legislator, he is currently considering a run for the U.S. Senate, as reported by Yellowhammer Podcast Network’s “The Insider.”

‘Long-awaited’ project for a rural part of Alabama

In Cherokee County, ALDOT will widen U.S. Highway 411 as part of the Rebuild Alabama First Year Plan.

“The widening of US 411 has been long-awaited by the folks of Cherokee and Etowah counties, and it is vital for the economic development of this area,” State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre) said. “As we begin to see dividends from the Rebuild Alabama Act, I once again thank Governor Ivey for her leadership in its passage and look forward to continually working together in the future.”

Cherokee County is one of 16 Alabama counties currently not served by a four-lane route to an interstate. This Rebuild Alabama project will fulfill a promise that the people of this area have waited for since the early 1960s.

“I appreciate and support Governor Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama plan, including investing in rural districts,” State Rep. Ginny Shaver (R-Leesburg) said. “Four lane access to the interstate will greatly increase economic development opportunities for new and existing industry in our area. The people have been waiting decades for this project to be completed, and Governor Ivey is the one who is getting it done!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Ivey to introduce book published by Alabama nonprofit dedicated to health and literacy

As part of its HEAL Day celebration in Montgomery, an Alabama nonprofit advocating for health and literacy will host Governor Kay Ivey for the introduction of a new book written by its founder.

Ivey will read the book, written by HEAL founder and CEO Christy Swaid, to 200 children in the state capitol auditorium.

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The Ultimate Treasure Hunt is a book that Swaid hopes will help children better understand the connection between health and literacy.

HEAL is an acronym summarizing the group’s mission: Healthy Eating Active Living. According to HEAL, it is “dedicated to unifying Alabama to reverse the trend of chronic disease and poor literacy.” The organization works with 30,000 students and 85,000 family members in 153 schools across the state.

Ivey’s book reading is part of an event the group is calling “HEAL Day: A day of education & celebration of health, academic achievement and literacy in the great state of Alabama.”

Where: Alabama State Capitol
When: May 1, 10:30am-1:00pm — Governor’s presentation is set for 11:00am with book reading to follow
Watch:

HB352 seeks to save the American Dream for Alabama small business owners

The American Dream.

It is woven into the fabric of our nation’s success and yet, at some point, for small business owners across Alabama, the dream of small business success that drives hardworking Alabama men and women to work 70 hour weeks, to pour their hearts and souls into building small businesses the vision of leaving something behind for their children, began to be threatened by large out of state corporate interests and under current Alabama law, there were no legal protections for those that saw their hard work, sweat, tears and dollars taken away.

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The Bush family spent nearly three decades building a successful small business in rural Elmore County. Twenty-six years ago, Darrel Bush’s parents purchased a Huddle House franchise and began the grueling task of opening a new restaurant. The restaurant grew into a success and, as they became ready, the next generation of the Bush family joined the business. Two generations of a single family were living the American Dream until the Huddle House corporation decided they wanted the profits that the Bush’s were making for themselves – cut out the small business owners that built the Huddle House name in Wetumpka.

Once the corporation had their eyes set on the Bush’s business, they used corporate bullying to drive the Bush’s out of business so that the corporation could build a company-owned Huddle House just a mile down the road. Alabama law had no protections for the Bush family and they lost the dream they had devoted their lives to achieving.

Unfortunately, the Bush family is not alone. Time after time, Alabama’s small business owners find themselves at the mercy of large out of state corporations due to our state’s weak franchisee protection laws.

Under current statute, the out of state franchisors hold all of the cards while Alabama small business owners are largely powerless to defend themselves. It is not uncommon for these franchisors to come back year after year and demand changes to franchise contracts. If the franchisees balk at agreeing to the changes, their businesses are threatened. They are often forced to purchase products at far above the fair market value, forced to make investments of their profits into systems and programs that benefit the corporation, not their small business. If a location gets too successful, they are at risk of being shut down so that a corporate owned store can open up down the street and usurp the profits for the corporation. Often, franchise owners are told that they can’t leave their businesses to their children.

Many Alabama franchisees lives in a constant state of fear.

Representative Connie Rowe (R-Walker County) is hoping to give Alabama’s small business men and women a fair playing field in the State of Alabama with HB352, the Alabama Small Business Act. The legislation, which will be heard in committee in the Alabama House of Representatives this week, will protect the rights of the state’s business owners and the 125,000 jobs they provide.

The bill gives franchisees the rights to have disputes heard in Alabama’s court system, rather than being forced to go to court in the franchisor’s home state. It would also require that franchisor corporations negotiate in good faith in their dealings with Alabama’s franchise owners.

This legislation is about more than protecting the rights of business owners. This legislation is about protecting the American Dream and that is something we should all be able to support.

3 hours ago

Alabama’s Coach Saban undergoes hip replacement surgery

Alabama coach Nick Saban has undergone hip replacement surgery.

Dr. Lyle Cain said Monday the 67-year-old Saban is expected to make a full recovery and “should be able to return to work in the very new future.”

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Cain says the right hip replacement was “robotic assisted” at Andrews Sports Medicine, with hip specialist Benton Emblom.

Cain says Saban could now have “a few more yards off the tee” in his golf game.

Saban said after Alabama’s spring game that his hip problems would be evaluated and that he could need six to eight weeks of recovery.

He said he wanted to get it fixed “because I don’t want to coach for one more year, I want to coach for a lot of more years.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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