By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Ever since it was passed, the Accountability Act has been controversial and politically damaging for those who supported it. The most recent and obvious example of this was the recent special election in Montgomery.
Two weeks ago, a special election was held in Montgomery to fill a state House of Representatives seat left vacant after former Rep. Jay Love resigned to take a lobbying job.
For several reasons, this special election was consumed by debate over the Accountability Act.
One reason for this is because one of the candidates, Charlotte Meadows, is the face of the Accountability Act in Alabama – literally!
Charlotte Meadows is the state outreach director for Students First, a national organization that has been one of the biggest proponents of the Accountability Act. It is her job to sell the Accountability Act to the public. It is her number one legislative priority and the centerpiece of her career. She cannot run for office and not make the Accountability Act the centerpiece of her campaign, as well.
Another reason the Accountability Act took precedence in the special election is because former Rep. Love was one of the strongest supporters of the Accountability Act. As chairman of the education budget committee, it was his job to write the budget that is paying for the Accountability Act. And when he resigned, he did so to take a lobbying job that continues to advocate for the Accountability Act.
A third reason the Accountability Act was so prominent in this election is because the Republican leadership in Montgomery has seen the polling data and they know that the Accountability Act is very unpopular. The Republican Supermajority desperately wants a win to help turn the tide of public opinion in support of the Accountability Act, and they believed that this district in Montgomery was the most favorable to the Accountability Act.
After all, there were more students from this district that transferred schools under the Accountability Act than anywhere else in the state, the biggest supporter of the Accountability Act was the district’s former representative and the district is home to several prominent private schools.
The only thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on when it comes to the Accountability Act is that if there is a legislative district that will support it, it would be this House District.
And that is why this special election was so important. There were three candidates in the Republican Primary Election. Two of them opposed the Accountability Act, while Meadows was the only candidate to support it.
At the end of Election Day, Meadows barely made the runoff election, garnering only 32 percent of the vote.
Dimitri Polizos, who has been an outspoken critic of the Accountability Act, received 46 percent of the vote – almost enough to avoid a runoff entirely. Heather Sellers, who also spoke against the Accountability Act, received 22 percent of the vote.
In total, 68 percent of the vote that was cast in the special election went to candidates who opposed the Accountability Act. And that is 68 percent of the vote in a Republican Primary for a special election. Turnout in special elections is always low (typically around 10-15 percent of voters will turn out), and that is especially true of special primary elections.
This means that only the most active and politically engaged Republican voters participated in the special election. If Charlotte Meadows and the Republican leadership could not persuade these voters to support the Accountability Act, then Republicans are in serious trouble in next year’s elections.
The special election in Montgomery shows that legislators who voted for or continue to support the Accountability Act are in serious trouble going into the 2014 elections. The Accountability Act is not only a bad law; it is a law that was passed deceitfully and unethically. It hurts our children and our public schools. Rather than improving schools, it abandons them. Our children deserve better!
It is time to hold the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery accountable on the Accountability Act.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.