By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
It might come as a surprise, to conservative rural voters, to discover that many Republican members of the House Rural Caucus attended a dinner meeting, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The House Rural Caucus is bipartisan, made of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who represent many of Alabama’s rural communities.
The email invitation states, “Amy Herring and Shay Farley will be hosting the dinner on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
Herring is a lobbyist for SPLC and Farley, an attorney for the group.
Rural Caucus president, Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden), said that while he did not agree with the liberal positions held by the SPLC, he felt, because the caucus was a bipartisan group, it should allow equal sharing of all views. He said many Republican Legislators attending the “Refreshments and Dinner” meeting felt the same. However, several Republican lawmakers from conservative districts boycotted the event, due to SPLC’s position on same-sex marriage, prayer in school, and religious freedom.
Rep. Will Ainsworth (R- Guntersville) did not attend the event. When asked to comment on why he refused to break bread with representatives of the SPLC he said, “The SPLC is an ultra-liberal group whose agenda includes shielding illegal immigrant lawbreakers, opposing constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedoms, and destroying long-standing monuments and memorials that detail entire segments of Alabama’s history.” He added, “Because I don’t accept the SPLC’s leftist agenda, I thought it would be disingenuous to accept their hospitality.”
Ainsworth, an avowed Christian conservative, concluded his comments saying, “In the Bible, Acts 2 talks about “taking meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,” and since I’m a committed conservative, I could not break bread with the SPLC with either gladness or sincerity.”
Over that last several Legislative Sessions, the SPLC, along with other left-leaning progressive groups, have made some positive inroads with so-called House and Senate conservatives, a trend that found its first foothold with Sen. Arthur Orr (R- Decatur). Orr made common cause with the SPLC and other groups to passes a law that would outlaw small lending. Orr joined forces with SPLC to limit interest rates on all loans, an agenda the SPLC has pushed for over the last few years.
According to the invitation sent by the Committee Clerk for the Alabama House of Representatives, the night’s program would feature SPLC’s views on State prisons. The group, along with the ACLU, has successfully sued the State over prison conditions in Alabama. There is another lawsuit in the works brought by the SPLC currently awaiting judgment.
Standridge said the Rural Caucus wanted to hear their side of the prison issue to understand what the State would be facing, given SPLC’s lawsuit. He also said that Farley and Herring presented their case, to drive payday lenders and small loan companies out of the State.
Although Isaac Whorton (R- Valley) drove home instead of attending the dinner, he found the event to be entirely appropriate: “I would note that the Rural Caucus is a bipartisan caucus formed to deal with issues that are important to all of rural Alabama. We are formed of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and everything in between. The meetings are informational only, and there is no ‘pressure’ to vote a certain way.” Whorton said he didn’t believe his constituent (Ainsworth) in his conservative district, “would have had a problem with me attending that meeting. In the end, what matters is how you vote, and why you vote that counts.”
One rock-ribbed Republican conservative speaking on background (his position with the State prohibits him from going on the record) said, “It seems that many GOP’ers are lining up to hear what they [liberals] have to say…if you follow the debates in the State House, the influence of these liberal groups on Republican policy is beginning to become evident…makes you wonder if being a Republican in the Alabama State House means what it used to mean?”
In 2010, the Republican supermajority promised to concentrate and stay fixed on a conservative agenda in the State Legislature. In 2014, they ran on “Conservative values.” To some, it appears that at least a number Republican in the supermajority are bending to the old factions who they swore to fight.
To some these meeting for information have turned into indoctrination for liberal causes.
Email forwarded by Republican Rep. Allen Farley on April 24, 2017, at 1:38 PM.
Alabama State Representative
House District 15
Good Afternoon Rural Caucus.
We will have a Rural Caucus meeting on Wednesday, April 26, at Kat N Harri’s, which is adjacent to Jubilee Seafood.
Refreshments: 6:00 pm
Dinner: 6:30 pm
RSVP to Ashley by responding to this email ASAP.
The program will center on the impact of the criminal justice system and the prison construction proposal on rural Alabama. We will also discuss financial services offered in rural Alabama and throughout the State. Amy Herring and Shay Farley will be hosting the dinner on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jubilee Seafood is located at 1057 Woodley Road.