By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A recent issue of “The Business Advocate,” a publication which is a part of the Business Council of Alabama, features a full-page photo of Chairman Billy Canary with a headline proclaiming, “Business Council Governmental Affairs Conference Best Ever.” The commanding picture with its fraudulent headline is an example of how a once important business organization has been co-opted for personal gain.
Canary has gained considerable wealth and power as BCA’s chieftain, but today, he finds himself under fire.
“Canary is not only a pariah in Washington, he is a joke in Montgomery. Most folks thought he would be indicted with Mike Hubbard. His credibility has continued to diminish since that time. His cavalier, sinister, overbearing and boorish New York behavior has made him a caricature,” as the political historian and columnist Steve Flowers observed in a recent article for The Alabama Political Reporter.
Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has personally informed politicos and business leaders that he considers Canary’s persona non grata. He has made that clear to all with ears to hear and half a brain to understand, and his office doors are shut to all who support Canary.
It is now widely known that Alabama Power Company’s C.E.O. Mark Crosswhite has delivered a similar message, even telling Canary and individual board members that if Canary stays, the power company will leave BCA. Even under the crushing weight of such absolute denunciation, BCA board members seem prepared to accept a Pyrrhic victory rather than toss Canary back on the dung heap that spawned him.
“When Dick Shelby says it time to go, pack your bags, when the company says go you’d better already be on the road,” one political operative explained. “Does Perry Hand want to be the man leading BCA when Alabama Power leaves?” he also added. Hand is president and CEO of Volkert Inc. from Mobile and BCA’s first vice chairman. He will chair BCA next year.
Other board members are aware of Shelby and Crosswhite’s displeasure, but they remain loyal to Canary like supine lackeys. “Canary may hang on, but the organization will be in ruins,” one former board member explained.
Formerly admired by business and public officials, BCA is now referred to by many as the new AEA, a pejorative reference to the once powerful Alabama Education Association, which served as the state democratic powerhouse before Canary, Speaker Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley brought it to heel.
Riley, Canary and convicted felon, former Speaker of the House Hubbard forged a Triumvirate to manipulate state government for personal gain as revealed at Hubbard’s criminal trial. During testimony, Riley, Canary and others in their cabal described how they used the speaker’s office under Hubbard to shape legislation that favored business interests aligned with the trio. It was even made known that Canary, lobbyist Dax Swatek and John Ross were Hubbard’s kitchen cabinet, which met daily during legislative sessions to determine the body’s agenda. Canary and Swatek remain fixtures at the State House, while Ross hustled off to Memphis to work for a company owned by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. Ross’ wife, Allison, recently took control of Yellowhammer News, an organization closely allied with Canary, Swatek and the BCA during the Hubbard years. Many questions surround the sudden departure of Josh Jones, who only months ago purchased Yellowhammer News from its founder, Cliff Sims, who left to work in President Trump’s administration.
Even now, Riley, Hubbard and Canary have a fifth column spread throughout state government, law-enforcement and the legal community who, like sleeper cells, are waiting for an opportunity to stir mischief for profit.
Former Riley staffers, and those who enabled Hubbard’s schemes to use his office for personal benefit, serve as top lobbyists at marquee law firms, others are agency heads, as well as advisors in the state’s executive branch. Like Canary, none of the acolytes have proven to be the best or brightest; only their political connections keep them employed.
As Hubbard noted in his vanity tribute to himself, “Stealing the Statehouse,” Canary was essential in the successful takeover of state government by “pro-business” Republicans in 2010. Many of those who owed their elections to Riley, Hubbard and Canary have moved on or out. Few among the current leadership owe anything to Canary, and it showed in the last legislative session.
BCA’s board members who hold Canary’s fate are:
President and CEO of Coleman Worldwide Moving, Dothan
First Vice Chairman
President & CEO, Volkert, Inc., Mobile
Second Vice Chairman
President & CEO, Kemp Management Solutions, LLC, Birmingham
Vice President, Henry Brick Co., Selma
Immediate Past Chairman
CEO, Vulcan, Inc., Foley
C. Charles Nailen Jr.
President, BBG Specialty Foods Inc., Dothan
Fournier J. “Boots” Gale, III
Senior Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, Regions Financial Corporation, Birmingham
Will these men risk their reputations and the future of BCA for a pariah, or will they heed sound wisdom as given by Shelby, Crosswhite and others and show him the door?