By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Nobody ever defended anything successfully. There is only attack and attack and attack some more, these are the words of General George S. Patton.
Anyone who paid attention to the defeat of Amendment 4 on Tuesday night should come away believing that Henry Mabry Executive Secretary of the AEA must have heard that quote.
The AEA defeated Amendment 4 in a 61-to-39 percent landslide, it was the only constitutional amendment that was defeated in Tuesday General Election.
There were those who counted the AEA out after the retirement of Paul Hubbert. No one believed Mabry was going to be able to fill the big shoes of the past Secretary, however he has proven the critics wrong even on this one.
In 2010, with the takeover of state government by the GOP supermajority, there was a giddiness that the Republicans would finally gain total control, even battling back the AEA.
This has not been the case, Mabry and company beat the GOP like a rented mule on the charter schools bill. So bad was the trouncing that it is not even set to be heard in this up coming session. That was a win for the new teachers union boss. But that is nothing compared to the crushing blow the AEA landed with it opposition to Amendment 4.
On the whole, voters pay scant attention to such amendments and many voters who read the description of Amendment 4 on the general election ballot would have believed a yes vote was appropriate.
The synopsis and ballot language is simple and vague, “This bill proposes an amendment to delete those remaining ‘Jim Crow’ provisions of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, which have not been expressly repealed by vote of the people.”
The ballot language of the amendment reads:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal portions of Section 256 and Amendment 111, now appearing as Section 256 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, relating to separation of schools by race and to repeal Section 259, Amendment 90, and Amendment 109, relating to the poll tax.
According to the bill’s author Alabama State Senate Arthur Orr, “It’s important to address this issue and show that Alabama is a much different place than it was in the past…The last time, the national news reported that Alabama had failed to reject segregation. It played into all the negative stereotypes of our state.”
Orr has championed the need to amend the constitution to move Alabama beyond its history of racial segregation as it competes globally for business development.
But the AEA and Mabry didn’t believe Orr explanation, they saw a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Mabry wrote of the proposed amendment, “The operative and most important sentence in Alabama’s Constitution regarding public education is this, ‘The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years.’ ”
Amendment 4 abolishes that sentence and provides another, diametrically opposed phrase saying, “but nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”
The AEA saw this as a war on education and they attacked, even attacking ALFA a organization he believed was pushing an agenda behind the scene. Mabry wrote, “There are those interests in Montgomery who have worked for over a century to thwart progress in our schools for fear that state and local taxes might increase to help pay for better community schools. Alfa has opposed educational progress, and it has worked to make it nearly impossible to raise revenue for schools. And now, Alfa supports Amendment 4.”
The voters of Alabama responded to the AEA call for attack by casting over a million votes against Amendment 4.
One republican legislator said off the record, “This should be a wake up call or maybe more like a fire alarm that Mabry and the AEA are not sleeping giants but giants on the move.”
It has also been pointed out that there is a real problem with ballot language that is vague and even perhaps deceptive. According to Al.com Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard blamed the amendment’s failure on the Alabama Education Association, which ran an advertising champaign against amendment 4.
“Anytime you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars airing TV ads that spread outrageous lies with no opposition, a segment of the public is going to believe the lies. Alabama’s image is damaged today, and the trail of evidence leads to AEA’s doorstep.”
Question have been asked by the AEA and others if there wasn’t some influence within the legislature to have Amendment 4 written in such aways as to be misleading. This begs the question, “Does the article by article rewriting of the constitution give an opening for more special interest influence than once believed?” Whatever the answer, one thing is sure the AEA is not going quietly or shying away from the battles.
Perhaps, this vote will lead to more cooperation between the GOP controlled state and the AEA but it is doubtful.