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Lawmakers “blackballed” over Autism bill

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The invitation list to the Business Council of Alabama’s annual summer party is four names shorter this year.

Sens. Dick Brewbaker, Cam Ward and Bill Holtzclaw, along with Rep. Jim Patterson, were all left off the list, Brewbaker said Wednesday. He called it being “blackballed” later on Twitter.

The party, which is actually dubbed the BCA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, is set to be held Aug. 11-13 at the its usual location – the Grand Hotel in Point Clear. It has become one of the largest gatherings of State Republicans – and a few Democrats – each year.

But a number of high-ranking GOP officials have started questioning the BCA’s effectiveness under current president Billy Canary. In pointed talks and heated discussions, they have criticized his heavy-handed approach with many lawmakers, especially when the forceful tactics failed to produce results.

Those tactics, coupled with Canary’s tendency towards petty revenge, have alienated several prominent GOP lawmakers from the BCA. And that will likely again be the case with Brewbaker, Ward, Patterson and Holtzclaw.

Those four were the primary forces behind a bill in the previous session that expanded insurance mandates in the State, forcing them to cover autism therapy – a widely used treatment that vastly enhances the likelihood that an autistic child can overcome most symptoms of the disease and lead more normal lives.

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Canary and the BCA made defeating the bill a central focus of their 2017 legislative agenda. They failed, the bill passed.

And in the wake of that failure – which capped off a particularly awful session for Canary – the BCA president has been seeking revenge. Two sources told APR that former Mental Health Commissioner Jim Perdue was forced out last month, in part, for his small role in helping the Autism bill pass.

And now, the four lawmakers who helped push it through are getting snubbed.

“I guess I’m down with the rebels now,” Brewbaker joked.

But other top State GOP officials question the political savviness of such a move, given the popularity and positioning of Ward and Holtzclaw – especially with the two of them already announcing that they’re running for re-election in 2018.

“At this point, it’s no secret that (Canary) is under pressure to perform and he’s in serious trouble,” a longtime GOP lawmaker said. “The leadership of that group has grown tired of him and they’ve let him know it. Why he would make enemies of two guys like Ward and Holtzclaw, that just makes no sense.”

As Bill Britt pointed out in Wednesday’s story, little of what Canary has done lately makes sense, and even less has endeared him to the lawmakers whose support and cooperation he requires for success. Britt noted that Canary hasn’t just alienated Montgomery lawmakers, he’s managed to become a pariah in DC as well.

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Those groups have frozen Canary out, hoping they can force the BCA’s leadership to make a change sooner rather than later. The freeze-out is further complicated by law enforcement agencies poking around the BCA’s door due to Canary’s dealings related to several scandals, including the Mike Hubbard and Oliver Robinson debacles. State GOP leaders believe Canary is definitely on the ropes, but they also think his long time at the top will buy him one more session to right the ship.

“From what I’ve heard, he’ll get one more chance to deliver, but he’s got to deliver some big wins for the BCA in this next session,” one lawmaker said. “If it looks like it’s not going that way, I think that’s the end for Billy Canary.”


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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