By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The fight to fire State School Superintendent Michael Sentance rages on.
For the past week, State Board of Education members, an attorney for the Board, the Governor’s office and Sentance have been trading passive-aggressive emails, as they argue over a meeting.
That’s right. A meeting.
There’s a special called State Board meeting on Wednesday, which everyone seemed cool with until one entry appeared on the agenda: “Superintendent’s contract.”
Uh-oh, someone at the Business Council of Alabama probably said. Because Sentance is the BCA’s adopted darling, tasked with turning Alabama’s public education system into a more business-friendly, employee-producer.
Sentance didn’t start out to be that guy. He was from Massachusetts, and arrived here in the education graveyard with grand ideas of appropriately taxing citizens in order to implement necessary change and provide impoverished students with a fighting chance.
Unfortunately, he was hired by way of the dumbest conspiracy to ever be successful, and so he never got the chance to have his pie-in-the-sky funding dreams shattered by Alabama’s usual brand of racism and indifference. Long before that could happen, Sentance was forced to sell out in order to get the business backing necessary to maybe keep his job.
And so, here we are.
In less than a year, Sentance and his distrust of everyone who has previously held a job at the Alabama State Department of Education, has taken an outfit that wasn’t exactly doing a bang-up job and turned it into a ramblin’ wreck that would rival the Trump administration.
Every week, there’s another mini-disaster piled onto the disaster heap. And despite promises by Sentance to do better, to listen more, to stop criticizing teachers all the time, to communicate better with everyone, to stop berating people for no good reason and to at least allow people to put out the fires before he sets the fire trucks ablaze, things seem to be getting worse instead of better.
So, a majority of the School Board wants to, as Board member Ella Bell said to a friend, send Sentance “back to Massachusetts by Labor Day.”
That’s what the hoopla over Wednesday’s meeting is about.
The Board wants to fire Sentance. Some powerful business interests, including some with influence in the Governor’s office, want to keep him.
That led Gov. Kay Ivey’s general counsel Bryan Taylor to write a letter to board members late last week telling them that Wednesday’s meeting was likely illegal because it wasn’t called in accordance with the law.
According to Taylor’s letter, only the Governor or Superintendent can schedule a special-called meeting, and Board rules state that the agenda must be presented seven days prior to the meeting. In addition, the Governor’s office claimed the meeting was not properly called during its previous meeting, as required, and that placing Sentance’s contract on the agenda was improper.
Board attorney Lewis Gillis fired back at Taylor, saying Taylor had failed to quote the entire statute and noted that the law allows for meetings to be set by the board when in official setting, which it did during its last work session. He also noted that the agenda had been circulated more than a week before, and that the “personnel” item on that agenda allowed for Sentance’s contract to be added.
But that, of course, didn’t deter Taylor or the rest of governor’s legal staff. On Monday afternoon, the media was treated to an off-the-record chat with chief deputy legal counsel Will Parker.
It did not go smoothly.
Probably because the poor guys forced to handle the call were in an impossible situation – left hanging out there like that goat in the first “Jurassic Park” movie.
Because the central point of Taylor’s letter is absurd.
Nearly every special-called SBOE meeting has been scheduled – and since state law only calls for one meeting per year, they’re almost all “special” meetings – in the same manner in which Wednesday’s meeting was. Which means that if Taylor’s argument is correct, every special meeting not called by the Governor or Superintendent, in the history of the SBOE, would be illegal. And the actions taken at those meetings – hirings, firings, code changes, program implementations and personnel moves – could be open to legal challenge.
I asked the Governor’s office about this. Their response was it’s not their place to determine the legality of SBOE meetings. Which is an odd response, given that they’ve issued a letter and held a teleconference in the past four days on the legality of SBOE meetings.
But really, at this point, I’m beyond trying to make sense of things.
What I do know is there will probably be a meeting on Wednesday at which Sentance will be handed his walking papers.
I say “probably” because early on Monday, Sentance sent a letter to board members informing them that in light of Taylor’s letter, he was gonna go ahead and cancel Wednesday’s meeting. Which feels a bit like the death row inmate writing to cancel the execution.
Board Vice President Stephanie Bell was none too happy about that, saying “He apparently doesn’t know that he works for us, not the other way around.” But she wasn’t sure just where her other Board members stood on the matter, and she wanted to get in touch with them to make sure they were still comfortable with meeting on Wednesday.
Whatever they decide, this can’t go on.
Good ideas or not, Sentance has been an unmitigated disaster, mostly because he refuses to trust anyone with a 334 phone number. Minor issues have become raging wild fires because he couldn’t get advice or help from people who know the local systems and laws, who have experience working in this State.
There is no bigger example of this than in Montgomery, where a promise to flood the struggling system with resources six months ago instead turned into a flood of high-dollar administrators. And the kids got … well, when the doors opened at six schools last week, some classrooms, including two elementary school classrooms, had more than 35 students.
This fight has to end so the right one can begin.
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Opinion | Counting on good Neighbors
Even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of District 4 need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
There’s a lot of reasons we know it’s an election year — political ads on television, presidential debates, Donald Trump super-spreader campaign rallies.
Oh, and Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt is back in his congressional district. Every couple years, Aderholt shows up. So he can “appear” connected to Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.
The 4th Congressional District starts just north of Birmingham and stretches horizontally across the state. The district includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Walker and Winston counties as well as parts of Blount, Cherokee, Jackson and Tuscaloosa counties.
Aderholt pops in for a few campaign events, and then pops out to his real residence in suburban Washington D.C. He’s no more an Alabamian than Florida’s Tommy Tuberville.
Aderholt does have opposition this year in Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors, a Vietnam veteran who truly helps his neighbors. Early in the pandemic, Neighbors was passing out masks door-to-door in the district. He’s continued to help his neighbors throughout the pandemic with anything he can do.
“Being in Congress means being here and working with the people,” Neighbors says on his website. “In 24 years, Rob Aderholt has left us behind to focus on his radical agenda and gotten rich in Congress.”
That’s from a campaign website, but it’s absolutely true. Aderholt is still talking about expanding broadband access in his rural district. It’s one of the few issues he talks about every two years, for 24 years, without ever getting anything done.
Seriously. Name something Aderholt has done for his district or Alabama in the more than two decades he’s been in Congress. I won’t hold my breath.
And if you don’t think Neighbors’s campaign isn’t a little worrisome for Aderholt supporters, why are all the Neighbors signs disappearing from his district?
Adults, acting like sixth-graders, love to pull up political signs. Even in my comfortably Democratic neighborhood, some Doug Jones for Senate signs disappear. And, oddly in my neighborhood, I saw an actual Tommy Tuberville sign that had been pulled down in front of some misplaced person’s yard. It happens on both sides.
But in the 4th Congressional District, and especially in the Cullman County area, it’s hard for Neighbors and his staff to keep signs in place.
“Cullman has come down, and we have had to replace almost all our signs in Winston County,” said Neighbors’s campaign manager Lisa Ward. As for Winston County, Ward said, “we were told those are gone again.”
Can anybody be more junior high?
“We’ve seen places where our sign was, and it’s been replaced by Aderholt signs,” Ward said. “When we put signs out, we leave his and put ours next to his. We joke and say everyone needs friendly neighbors around.”
The Neighbors campaign does have the right spirit. They just work to replace the signs that disappear. But it is aggravating, to say the least.
“Someone told us that Aderholt is really worried if people find out he has an opponent or doesn’t live here he could struggle,” said Ward. “That’s why he’s not mentioning (Neighbors’s) campaign. And why we think they’re taking his signs down. So people don’t know. It’s really about people not getting a chance to know they have a choice. And there is no time to hear who he is.”
Well, here’s who he is: Neighbors served three tours in Vietnam during that war, enlisting when he was 17 years old. After the service, he got a college degree, then spent 35 years in the apparel business in North Alabama.
Neighbors and his wife, Judy, have three children, and Neighbors recently earned an MBA from the University of North Alabama.
Neighbors would be a breath of fresh air for Alabama in Washington. He won’t live there. He’ll be grounded in the 4th Congressional District.
If Aderholt wins, we won’t see him again until 2022. Twenty-four years in Congress is plenty of time to get something done. But with Aderholt, there’s not much to show for all that time.
And even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of the 4th District need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Opinion | Election less than two weeks away
If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Sen. Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington.
Our 2020 presidential election is less than two weeks away. We Americans will either elect Republican Donald Trump for another four-year term or Democrat Joe Biden.
In Alabama, we will either elect Republican Tommy Tuberville or Democratic incumbent Doug Jones for six years to serve with our iconic Senior Sen. Richard Shelby. The winner will be elected to a six-year term in this august body.
Several of you took issue with my statement last week that a vote for the liberal Democrat Doug Jones is a vote against Richard Shelby and the state of Alabama. Allow me to clarify and explain to you as simply as I can why that is true and why I reiterate that declaration.
The United States Senate is steeped in and governed by time honored rules and traditions. The most revered and sacred shrine is the vestige of seniority. The rule of seniority is paramount. The longer you serve in the Senate the more powerful you become. Some become more powerful than others. Richard Shelby has become the most powerful and consequential U.S. Senator to have represented our state in Alabama history.
In my 2015 book, Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories, I have a chapter titled, “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.” They are Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.
Sen. Lister Hill was an austere, aristocratic gentleman who was renowned for health care. He was the author of the famous Hill-Burton Act and the father of the renowned UAB Medical Center. He served 30-years in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. John Sparkman served in the U.S. Senate for 32-years. He was from Huntsville and is credited with being the father of Redstone Arsenal.
If I were writing that chapter today, Sen. Richard Shelby would be alone as Alabama’s most consequential, powerful senator in our state’s history. He is in a league of his own. During his 34-year career in the Senate, Shelby has become renowned as the bearer of good tidings and federal dollars to the Heart of Dixie. If Lister Hill was the father of UAB and John Sparkman the father of Redstone Arsenal, then Richard Shelby can very aptly be referred to as the grandfather as well as great uncle to these two premier Alabama institutions. Richard Shelby is the reason UAB and Huntsville’s Space and Rocket Center are Alabama’s most prestigious as well as Alabama’s two largest employers.
Huntsville has become Alabama’s fastest growing and most prosperous city and one of America’s brightest high-tech destination locations. The City of Huntsville is soon to become the second home of the FBI. The state-of-the-art Huntsville FBI cybersecurity headquarters will employ over 2,000 very highly paid individuals. This coup for Alabama is due to one person – our senior Sen. Richard Shelby.
It is not just Huntsville and Birmingham that have benefited from Shelby’s prowess and power, it is the entire state. Every corner of the state can point to a Shelby generated road, building, industry, or military installation.
You might be asking, how has Shelby accomplished so much for our state? It is simple. It is federal dollars. Then you might ask, how does Shelby bring so many federal dollars to Alabama? It is simple. He is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. He appropriates the United States budget, or in other words, he controls the federal checkbook.
In addition to being Chairman of Appropriations, Sen. Shelby is Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. If you do not think that is invaluable to Alabama, you best think again. There is no state in the nation that benefits more through defense preparedness and dollars in the United States than the good ole Heart of Dixie.
Under the Rules of the Senate, the political party that has the majority of members presides and makes the rules. More importantly, for Alabama, the majority party gets all the committee chairmanships. Our Senior Sen. Richard Shelby is a Republican. Currently, Republicans have a slim 53-to-47 majority in the Senate. There are three Republican incumbent senators in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, who are in serious jeopardy of losing. If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Sen. Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington. Suppose your vote for Doug Jones, a liberal, national, California Democrat, is the deciding vote that puts the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate and puts Richard Shelby and Alabama out to pasture.
See you next week.
Opinion | Electing Tuberville could cost Alabama billions
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.
Money matters in Alabama. Oh, I know that we’re not supposed to say that out loud. That we’re supposed to promote our image of southern grace and hospitality, of churchiness and care, of rich people never getting into heaven.
But the truth is greed is our biggest character flaw in this state.
Every problem we have can be traced back to our unending thirst for dollars. Our ancestors didn’t keep slaves because they hated black people. They did it because they loved money and the difference in skin color gave them an excuse — a really, really stupid excuse — to mistreat other humans to take advantage of the free labor.
Our rivers and lakes and dirt aren’t filled with poisons from factories because we’re too dumb to understand how this works. They’re that way because our politicians are paid off to turn a blind eye to the dumping of toxic waste.
Our schools aren’t terrible because we have dumb kids or bad teachers. It’s because we’re too cheap to pay for them.
You see what I mean? It’s our lust for the almighty dollar. Every time.
We love money.
Which makes me seriously wonder why so many people in this state are going to vote for a man who will cost us all — and especially our biggest businesses — so much of it.
Tommy Tuberville will be like a money vacuum for Alabama. Billions of dollars will vanish for this welfare state that relies so much on federal contracts, federal programs and federal dollars.
If you doubt this, don’t simply take my word for it. Just Google up the press releases from Sen. Richard Shelby’s office from the last, say, six years — the most recent span in which Republicans have controlled the Senate.
Almost every single release is about Shelby securing millions or billions of dollars in federal funding for this project or that project, getting the state’s share of dollars from a variety of different programs and initiatives implemented by Congress.
Shelby and I obviously have different political viewpoints, but it’s hard to argue that the man has been successful in securing money for Alabama. Lots and lots of money.
Money for airports and roads. Money for defense contractors in Huntsville. Money for the port in Mobile. Money for car manufacturers. Money for farmers.
Money. Money. Money.
Shelby can do that because of three things: He’s on the right committees, he’s a member of the party in power and he’s liked by the right people.
Tuberville will be none of those things.
Most pundits are predicting that Democrats will take over the Senate, tipping the balance of power and giving the party control of both houses and the White House.
That automatically means that a first-time senator in the opposition party will have little to no say in any decisions.
But what’s worse for Tuberville, and for Alabama, is that other Republicans don’t like him either.
Establishment Republicans essentially openly campaigned against Tuberville in the primary, tossing tens of millions of dollars behind his opponent, Jeff Sessions. They even favored third-place finisher Bradley Byrne over Tuberville.
It’s not hard to understand why — he’s clueless.
I know that’s a Doug Jones talking point, but this one happens to be true. Let me give you an example: On Thursday, Tuberville tweeted out what was meant to be a shot at Jones, claiming that Alabama’s current senator wouldn’t meet with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee because Jones knows “he won’t have much time in the Senate to work with her.”
If you’re unaware, the Senate doesn’t “work with” the Supreme Court. They’re separate entities.
Combine that with his other nonsensical answers on COVID relief, school reopenings, the Voting Rights Act, senate committee assignments, education, foreign affairs — really, the list is almost endless — and it shows how little work he’s put in over the last two years to understand this job he’s applying for.
Now, that might be just fine with Alabama voters who care more about the party affiliation and owning the libs, but it’s not OK with grownups who take the job of running the country seriously.
And those people — both Rs and Ds — don’t like Tuberville or his here-for-an-easy-check-like-always approach to one of the most serious jobs in the world.
He will be frozen out of the most sought after committee assignments. His voice will carry zero weight. His presence will be all but forgotten.
And in the process, so will Alabama. Especially in two years, when Shelby retires and his senior status is lost.
In the meantime, Jones is highly respected by senators on both sides of the aisle. He already has a presence on top committees, and is so well liked within the Democratic Party that he’s on the short list to be Joe Biden’s AG, should he not be re-elected.
The choice seems pretty simple. On the one hand is a competent, prepared and serious statesman who knows how to maneuver his colleagues to get the most for the state. On the other hand is an unprepared, uncaring, lazy carpetbagger who doesn’t understand any process.
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.