By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, March 17, Alabama State Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) spoke on the Senate floor addressing his punishment by the Senate leadership for not having supported Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) controversial tenure reform bill, the PREP Act.
Senator Bussman said, “As most of you know, last week I was removed as the Vice Chairman of Rules by leadership. You would have to go back to November 15, 2011 to find the only other time that such a harsh punishment was applied by leadership. That Senator wore a wire and secretly recorded other members of the Senate (former Senator Scott Beason, R-Gardendale who was working with the FBI on a Senate corruption probe). That Senator then made derogatory and racial comments about an entire race of Alabamians. That senator was even allowed to apologize and keep his position by leadership. It was not until the senate minority demanded that he be removed was he removed by leadership.”
Sen. Bussman said, “Since I was informed of this punishment decision, I’ve made no comments on this situation because I thought it was an internal Senate matter and would be resolved in the Senate. Unfortunately, public statements by leadership have been made and explanations given. Explanations that I broke procedure, did not return the Pro Temp’s phone call before I cast a vote and I offered an alternate calendar without speaking to the Rules Chairman (Sen. Jabo Wagonner, R-Vestavia). For that, I would receive the same harsh punishment as the Senator in 2011, without any options. The underlying message to me was loud and clear.”
Sen. Bussman continued, “For the record, I attended the education committee meeting and asked questions and made comments – some positive and some negative. None of those comments were directed at the sponsor (Del Marsh) personally. I then cast a ‘no’ vote. To which, the member of leadership sitting beside me responded, ‘You are never going to learn are you.’ It should not matter who the sponsor is. When the session started later that day, I was frustrated to find out that a silent deal was made on a bill that was carried over, I offered an alternate calendar to remove my bill from the calendar. A procedure that has been used before in this chamber without criticism. I have never come to this microphone to embarrass any member of this body. Even when we disagree, as Sen Ward and I did last week, I have tremendous respect for the members of this Senate.”
Bussman said, “Believe me, there are plenty of things that could be said on this situation, but my purpose here is to prevent this situation from escalating. I won’t continue to discuss what should be an internal Senate issues between Senate colleagues.”
Sen. Bussman said, “I take my responsibility as a Senator very seriously. But let me be very clear. No Senator should feel intimidated or threatened and I will not be intimidated and if threatened, I will respond. No Senator should sit quietly by when they have concerns about legislation that will affect the citizens of this State and I will not be silenced. As busy as we all are, No Senator should be required to call anyone before they speak out or cast a vote. And finally, I, personally, will continue to vote for what I think is right, and that vote will not depend on whether I keep or lose a committee position.”
Sen. Del Marsh told reporters on Tuesday that Bussman was taken off the committee for not returning Marsh’s phone calls before a vote on a teacher tenure and assessment bill, and for trying to offer a calendar without consulting the Rules Committee chairman first. Marsh told the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, “The Committee on Assignments had met and said ‘Listen, these types of actions can’t happen and we have to make this clear. So we took action.”
Sen. Jabo Waggoner told reporters that the removal had been Marsh’s idea and that he supported it. He had no further comment.
The PREP Act would require that school systems in Alabama adopt a rigid teacher evaluation system designed by Marsh, would require five years of teaching before a teacher could receive tenure and would make tenure revocable after two unsatisfactory performance evaluation. It is widely opposed by teachers and school administrators.
Since taking over the Senate in 2010 Marsh has been the Senate President Pro Tem and has often battled against conservatives in the Senate including Bussman and Beason. Marsh has blocked conservative reforms such as the repeal of the unpopular Common Core standards and deep budget cuts, while pushing through tax increases in 2016 and a trust fund raid in 2012. Marsh has championed education reforms like the PREP Act, charter schools legislation, and the Alabama Accountability Act. In 2015 Marsh sponsored legislation to create a lottery and bring casino gaming to Alabama. That legislation failed because it lacked support from conservatives within his own caucus.