Bizarre campaign spending choices in 2010 weakened the AEA politically and financially, and they hurt the ADP as well. The leaders of the two organizations were so connected that it was difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two. AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert resigned as vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Party in July 2010, but the damage to Democratic candidate recruitment was already done. As reported at the time: “Hubbert said today it would be in the best interests of AEA for him not to be active in the Democratic Party.”
That was a decision Hubbert should have made years before.
Paul Hubbert’s Primary Loyalty Was To AEA
His main job was to run AEA and advocate for public education, teachers, and support personnel. He did it well and I admire him for his skill and commitment. My mother, a retired teacher, has nothing but good to say about Hubbert and AEA: thanks in part to his work, she earned a living wage and now has a secure retirement and access to affordable health care. That is no small achievement, and Hubbert & Reed deserve much of the credit. His legacy is nothing to scoff at, at Charles Dean reminisced after Hubbert’s death:
“You changed the world for my family,” the teacher told Hubbert. “My daddy and mother were teachers having to work two and sometimes three other jobs to make enough money and then it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t afford a good car or a nice home to raise my bother and me. You changed all that for them. You gave them dignity and you helped to send my brother and me to college because they finally made a decent wage. I just wanted to tell you that,” the teacher told Hubbard with tears in her eyes.
But there was a downside to AEA’s power. From the same article:
Politics is usually complicated. With so many strong personalities, agendas and parochial interests, building the consensus needed to truly shape legislation or regulation in any coherent fashion is amazingly difficult. The political machine that Hubbert created made Alabama politics elegantly and brutally simple at the same time.
He clearly understood that results rather than tactics measure political success. The AEA’s agenda and priorities were paramount, and he knew how to win bare-knuckle political fights with a smile. Whether or not politicians liked his goals, they always knew what they were and the consequences for opposing them.
That’s not a criticism. Politics is a contact sport & AEA has never minded making the hits. However, the old saying that “a man can’t serve two masters” is correct. Hubbert got paid to protect AEA’s interest and move its legislation. AEA’s interests came first: Hubbert may have been a loyal Democrat and was willing to serve in an unpaid position as vice-chair of the party, but it was never his priority.
For example: about 10 years ago, a well-connected lawyer in Madison County wanted to challenge Rep. Howard Sanderford and had supporters and contributions lined up, but needed AEA support to prove that she was a serious candidate. So she made the trek to Montgomery to meet with Hubbert, who waved her off, noting that “he (Sanderford) always votes with us, so why make a change?” Other Democratic legislative hopefuls from the past decade report similar encounters.
People tend to confuse AEA, which is a labor organization (not a union), with an educational advocacy & reform group. Although the two interests often intersect, the group’s leaders have an obligation to protect their membership first. It’s their job, after all.
The problem for the Democrats was that having two high-ranking AEA members in equally high-ranking positions in the ADP constituted a massive conflict of interest.
The dreadful “True Republican PAC” ads we highlighted in Part Three were funded by the AEA while Paul Hubbert was a vice-chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. Months before Hubbert resigned, AEA was funneling money to candidates from both parties. Mooncat warned about the danger of a strategy that ignored legislative races in May 2010. Her warning went unheeded:
Maybe that’s why they decided to stop fooling around with funding opponents and do the job themselves through the “True Republican” PAC. Which begs the question: Does AEA care who ends up in the Governor’s Mansion as long as it isn’t Bradley Byrne? And:
According to Follow the Money, in 2006 AEA spent $3.3 million, played heavily in legislative races and the Lt. Gov. race (on behalf of Folsom) but spent essentially nothing on the governor’s race. They spent a similar amount in 2002, again largely on the Legislature, with only small contributions to Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman and Republican Steve Windom, who lost the primary. Their overall win/loss percentage was somewhat worse in 2006 than in 2002. Obviously, they’re going forward with a very different strategy in 2010, having already spent around $800,000 in the governor’s race, mostly to prevent Bradley Byrne from winning. This strikes me as a very reactive strategy and indicative of an entrenched power trying to hold what they’ve got, but why so much on the governor’s race? What about the Legislature? Have they written it off, or are they that sure their allies (in both parties) can win with considerably less help than in the last two cycles?
Other observors agreed. After Hubbert declined to take sides in the governor’s race between Sparks and Bentley, a Gadsden Times article noted:
“If voters switch to a Republican-dominated Legislature, obviously the AEA won’t be as well off,” Stewart said. “He’d be wise to look at the Legislature because that’s where the appropriations come from.”
The Republicans were already gunning for the AEA, even without the organization’s GOP primary participation. When they took the legislature, outgoing Governor Bob Riley didn’t even wait a month before pushing “ethics reform” that was a blatant attempt to hurt AEA’s fundraising. For those new to Alabama politics, understand that there’s no “lame duck session” possible in the Alabama Legislature. If you lose your seat on election day, the winner of the race takes office immediately. Thus, outgoing Governor Bob Riley was able call a special session and use the new Republican majority to push through “ethics reforms” before he left office.
The “Status Quo Strategy” protected legislators who were good for AEA, but bad for the state
The perception that no Democrat (or even Republican) could be a serious candidate without AEA support helped increase the organization’s power and influence, but it weakened the Democratic Party by stymieing candidate recruitment and leaving winnable Republican-held seats uncontested (or underfunded). The status quo ruled and change happened at glacial speed – if at all.
As a result, what was a wave election for other states in 2010 was a tsunami for Alabama. Democrats had controlled state government for generations, but we still didn’t have constitution reform, tax reform, ethics reform, and progressive legislation was routinely bottled up and denied a vote. We criticize Republicans for being puppets of their corporate masters, but the pre-2010 Democratic majority wasn’t much better.
Democrats were, however, slightly more subtle about it. Take the fight over deregulating landline phone rates. Instead of shoving the bill through with sheer brute force, Mike Hubbard-stlye, legislative leaders allowed a filibuster that was broken with cloture vote when Senator Bobby Singleton “stepped outside the chamber” for a few minutes. A softer touch, but the same result.
We complain now about the Alabama PSC being bought & paid for by industry and not protecting consumers, but remember that it was a Democratic majority who voted to strip almost all oversight power from the Alabama Public Service Commission. Among other things, that forced the state to pay consultants $1.7 million to estimate where broadband access was available in the state. And during the debate on deregulation of landline phone rates, Democrats argued that “everyone” has a cell phone anyway. Except that large swatches of the state have spotty cell service at best. Rural legislators sold out their constituents for telecom contributions.
When an elected official forgets the needs of the people he/she represents, he/she’s has stopped acting as a “public servant” and become just another hog at the public trough.
The tragedy of tunnel vision
In Part three, we listed some opportunities lost because the Democratic majority refused to act.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that if AEA had wanted any of this reform legislation passed, it would have stood a darn good chance. At least the bills could have come to a vote so we’d know for sure who was with us and who was against us. But reform of state government and even the Alabama Democratic Party wasn’t Hubbert’s priority. It’s a valid argument that it shouldn’t have been: AEA paid his salary and education employees depended on him for living wages, job security, and benefits.
And there’s the conflict of interest. My contention then and now is that he should not have been part of the Democratic Party leadership and on its executive board (where all the real power lies) at the same time he was working against Democrats running against “AEA friendly” Republicans in some state legislative districts.
And let’s go one more: with great power comes great responsibility. Sure: Hubbert/Reed & AEA should have been loyal first to the people paying their salaries, but look at the larger picture.
- Wouldn’t removing the sales tax on food help a beginning young teacher as much as it helps a secretary or auto mechanic?
- Wouldn’t giving power back to the Public Service Commission to actually serve the public & not industry help retired teacher, low income workers, and anyone on fixed incomes pay their utility bills?
We are all connected, and so many progressive initiatives would have helped AEA members and retirees just as much as it helped the state as a whole.
AEA didn’t prioritize those issues when Hubbert ran the organization and Henry Mabry was too consumed with trying to put out the fires started by the GOP super-majority to focus on anything but education issues. Would an AEA-led progressive coalition of groups like Alabama ARISE been successful in enacting real change in a Democratic-held legislature? Would it have provided a record of accomplishment and generated enough enthusiasm among Democrats to stem some of the losses in 2010? Maybe. Maybe not.
The tragedy is that we never even got to try.
After four downbeat days of some history and a lot of my opinion, it’s time for y’all to weigh in. In Part five, I’ll offer some suggestions about where we go from here, how to rebuild the state party, revitalize local county committees, etc. But this has to be a group effort and understand that the process will probably take a decade or more.
The Republicans were patient in building their majority and finally got it. We don’t want to use them as role models for much, but they do deserve credit for never losing focus and never giving up.
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