Several news stories emerged today calling light to the fact that certain legislators weren’t invited to the annual summer conference sponsored by the Business Council of Alabama, headed by Billy Canary. These stories noted the fact that these same legislators who were not invited opposed the BCA on last year’s autism bill, and some of the articles suggested that’s the reason the legislators didn’t receive invites.
In reply, BCA’s Senior Vice President for Communications, Nancy Hewston, said, “The implication that our guest list was developed solely on one issue is false, and anyone who writes that is promoting fake news. 133 out of 137 lawmakers voted for this particular issue, and the vast majority of them will be attending this year’s conference. Let me be clear – no one was uninvited from this event. This year will mark the 30th year of this summer conference, and we are proud that this annual event has such widespread interest and appeal.”
Among of the 133 Senators who voted for the autism bill was its Senate sponsor, Republican Tom Whatley, and he was invited to the event.
Yellowhammer caught up with four of the legislators who were not invited. We asked each of them if they were first invited and later uninvited, as some stories reported. All four said they were never invited in the first place, corroborating Mrs. Hewston’s statement that “no one was uninvited.”
We also asked each of them if they spoke to the BCA about the lack of an invitation. Senators Mclendon and Holtzclaw did not. Senator Ward did, and Representative Patterson’s campaign manager did. Yellowhammer also asked Ward and Patterson if the autism vote was mentioned in these conversations and only Senator Ward said it was. The comments of all four are below.
Senator Jim McClendon: “Last year, I sponsored a bill regarding non-covered medical services for insurance companies. The bill basically said that if an insurance company doesn’t cover a procedure, they can’t turn around and tell the provider what to charge the patient. Blue Cross doesn’t do that, but other insurance companies do. Anyway, BCA opposed my bill. To my knowledge, I’d received an invitation every year I’ve been in the legislature since 2002, but after they opposed my bill in 2016, I didn’t receive one. They didn’t say anything about that, but I just assumed that’s why I wasn’t invited. But, no one from the BCA spoke to me about that. So, when I didn’t get an invitation for the 2017 conference, after supporting the autism bill, that was not a surprise. I told [Senator] Brewbaker, welcome aboard.”
Senator Bill Holtzclaw: “I’m not upset about it. I know where the beach is. If I want to go, I’ll go. The bottom line is, I’m entering my 8th year of office. I don’t know how many times I’ve been invited and how many times I haven’t been invited. I went once, back in 2015, and to be honest; it wasn’t my thing. Sure, if you look at it, there’s a common denominator there, but no one from BCA ever spoke with me about it, and I honestly didn’t think about the connection till others pointed it out because I certainly don’t build my summer around the BCA conference in Point Clear.”
Representative Jim Patterson: “When my campaign manager called the BCA and asked why I hadn’t received an invitation, they just said I wasn’t invited, so to be fair to them, I can’t speculate as to why. What I can say is that I’ve been invited every year since I was elected in 2010. I love the event, and as a legislator and small business owner, it’s important to me. They have great speakers. It’s a chance to meet with business leaders from Huntsville, it’s very educational, and a great time to network. So I was disappointed that I wasn’t invited this year. Again, I can only speculate as to why. All I do know is that they were pretty upset with me about the scholarship bill and the autism bill. Billy Canary came up to me after the public hearing [on the autism bill] and more or less chewed me out. He essentially asked why I was introducing the bill without talking to him first, and it got a little more contentious from there. But let me be quick to say, I respect the BCA and as far as I’m concerned, I don’t burn bridges. I consider Billy a friend, and if he came to me today and needed my help on something we agreed on that I believed in, I’d be glad to help him.”
Senator Cam Ward: “I have been invited for 20 straight years, even before I was elected. I was confused by this decision because I heard it might have to do with my advocacy for autism insurance, so I sat down and visited with BCA staff regarding this decision. I had a chance to meet with two staff members in Clanton one day on my way home from Montgomery in June. I was told that I was the face of the autism insurance bill even though I was not the sponsor. Despite being named a “Business Champion” by BCA in March of this year, several members of the board were uncomfortable with me being at their events. They said to me during this conversation that it was best for me and the membership of the BCA if I were not at this conference. It was a cordial conversation. I mentioned that I had a very strong business voting record over my career and still consider myself pro-business despite this decision. I also mentioned that I did not mind the message being sent to me, but I did find it unusual to be given a public award for my work with them, and only two months later being told I am no longer welcome to associate with them. They said that the business community had a bad year in the legislature. In regards to me specifically, it was just said that regardless if I was the sponsor or not I was still the face of the autism insurance bill, and a lot of folks needed some time to get past that.”