By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The powerful Alabama Education Association (AEA) dominated Alabama politics for decades. Most state legislature candidates needed AEA support to win their Democratic Primary and AEA money and influence kept those Democratic incumbents in office in increasingly Republican leaning districts far longer than they probably deserved.
At its heart, Alabama is a very conservative State. But, popular Democratic incumbents, AEA money, brilliant local party ground games, and partisan gerrymandering had kept much of the State more or less under the control of AEA, the Democratic Party, and the tag team of AEA leaders Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed probably for 16 to 20 years longer than it should have, given the demographics of the Alabama electorate.
All politics is local…until it isn’t. The Tea Party, better Alabama Republican Party strategists, a stronger bolder Business Council of Alabama and the rise of Fox News turned the election of 2010 into a referendum on the Party of Barack H. Obama. Incumbents of 20 years were tossed aside by voters for some people that had never held a public office simply before because they had an R behind their names on the ballot and they didn’t take money from the AEA. It was a crushing defeat the AEA and the Alabama Democratic Party have both shown no signs of recovering from since.
A shell-shocked and increasingly ill Dr. Hubbert, hung on for a year, attempting to work with the new Republican supermajority in both Houses of the Legislature; but, there was no way those fences could ever be mended. The new GOP supermajority swiftly passed legislation demanding that AEA no longer contribute to political races or the State would not deduct union dues from it’s workers checks anymore.
With both his influence, and his health waning, Dr. Hubbert retired. The AEA chose Henry Mabry to replace the retiring Dr. Hubbert. The GOP lawmakers never worked well with him either. The GOP leadership passed the Alabama Accountability Act in a bizarre, last minute conference committee moment, stripping millions of dollars from public schools to private schools.
Mabry immediately began working to re-establish the AEA as a bipartisan force for educators as potent in a GOP Primary as it was in the Democratic Primary. It didn’t work. Teachers who lean to the left couldn’t get behind anti-Common Core Tea Party conservatives in GOP primaries and the highly negative campaigns on both sides resulted in miniscule turnouts. Educators stayed home and the GOP establishment only lost six House seats and not a single Senate race to the AEA backed Republicans. AEA’s Democratic old guard was bitter over all the money “wasted” in Republican Primaries and a faction attempted to oust Mabry as Executive Secretary.
That coup d’etat failed.
November rolled around and again the AEA could not motivate their grass roots to get behind a largely hopeless slate of Democratic statewide candidates (no Democrat has won a statewide race for any office since 2008) and the down ballot losses for Democrats were enormous. Three of the last four seats in the State Senate still held by White Democrats fell to the GOP and the GOP built on its commanding majority in the House. 2014 was so bad that even the House Democrats voted for Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) to retain his role as Speaker of the House when they couldn’t find a moderate Republican willing to lead a bipartisan coalition even for the Speaker’s job.
2015 came and a reinvigorated GOP supermajority was set to push to expand the Alabama Accountability Act, pass sweeping charter schools legislation, and create a new all appointed board to take over the two year college system away from the elected state Board of Education.
Mabry was preparing to do battle in the legislature, meanwhile people on his own staff and board of directors were conspiring to end Mabry’s tenure at AEA. Just days before the legislative session began, his enemies pounced with the help of the National Education Association (NEA), which used the money spent on the 2014 elections as grounds to place the AEA in trusteeship of the National party.
The guy from Wisconsin who got beat in 3 straight costly and unsuccessful battles with Scott Walker in four years was sent down here to run AEA. Since nobody knows who is running AEA or if they are likely to be around very long, they are in no position to promise anything to legislators down the road and neither can they make credible threats. A kinder, nicer AEA got totally steamrolled in the 2015 legislative session. Charter schools passed with token opposition, the Republicans got to pick a new two-year college board, the Accountability Act expanded, and no one even discussed giving battered education employees a long overdue cost of living increase.
Now the legislature is about to meet in special session with plans to raid more money from education for the State General Fund (SGF) and AEA is largely silent while still sitting in trusteeship.
On Tuesday, a letter was released to the press written by exasperated former AEA officials led by Dr. Joe Reed and former AEA President and current Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley to NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia expressing concerns about where the current takeover is headed.
The group said that it is, “Detrimental to both AEA and NEA for this Trusteeship to continue and, heretofore, NEA should not insist on attempting to run AEA in violation of NEA By-Laws,8-12, the AEA Constitution and Policies, and Alabama and Federal laws.” The group said that that the ongoing trusteeship is unprecedented and claimed that there is not any justification for NEA’s placing AEA under Trusteeship. They claimed that the action was unwarranted and that no evidence was found showing that the AEA Board or Delegate Assembly committed financial malpractice.”
They went on to charge the NEA with a “Power-grab” and warned that it would be a tragedy if the continued Trusteeship resulted in the good relationship between the NEA and the AEA deteriorating. The group warned of possible litigation if the NEA does not end its on-going trusteeship and allow the embattled State affiliate to select its own Executive Secretary.