This week Yellowhammer will have a series of five articles that take a look back at the 2012 regular session. “AEA Still a Threat” is article #1 in our “Session in Review” series.
The 2012 has been a year of ups and downs for the Alabama Education Association. After the shellacking they took in the 2010 elections and the GOP’s workmanlike effort in the 2011 session, AEA rang in the new year with yet another blow as their legendary leader Paul Hubbert limped into retirement. On January 2, Henry Mabry took over what many people considered to be the political equivilent to the Titanic.
Most of the talk around Montgomery in early 2012 was that the AEA was finished. Their fundraising apparatus had been dented with taxpayers no longer being required to support their dues-collection efforts. The Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature also posed a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that even AEA’s best lobbying efforts could not overcome.
However, to steal a line from Mark Twain, the rumors of the AEA’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
This session, the Alabama Education Association revealed a strategy that conservative legislators and activists need to remember as we move forward. It’s not revolutionary but it has proven to be quite effective. On every significant piece of legislation, the AEA worked to rally and solidify their liberal base while finding ways to split conservatives.
The charter schools bill serves as the perfect example of their strategy at work.
The AEA convinced their base that charter schools would take money away from public schools. Of course, charter schools ARE public schools so that makes zero sense — but we’re not debating the merits of their arguments here, only discussing their tactics. Meanwhile, fabricated stories aimed at conservatives began to emerge. There was the false claim that charter schools would open up our education system to Muslim sharia law. Then members of the Governor’s administration were personally attacked and said to be working toward introduce a radical liberal agenda into charter schools’ teaching curriculum. To get these messages out, faux conservative organizations helped propagate the stories and thousands of dollars in online advertising flooded the internet.
This strategy was so effective that even the most solid conservatives in the House and Senate GOP caucuses were conflicted because of the constituent feedback they were receiving — all of it based on liberal propaganda. Even now as I travel around the state speaking at Republican and Tea Party events, someone will invariably stand up and voice their concerns with charter schools. They’ve completely forgotten that charter schools represent free-market principles and introduce accountability into the marketplace. It doesn’t get much more conservative that that.
And remember, If AEA will spend mountains of cash on this, they’ll spend much, much more in the 2014 primaries to get AEA friendly candidates elected over the strong conservative majority elected in 2010.
Conservative activists may not be able to compete with the AEA’s deep pockets, but we can adapt and find ways to counter their tactics. While the AEA is funding robo calls and sending lobbyists to chase down members of the legislature at church, we need to have Republican and Tea Party leaders at every meeting and event around the state educating folks with the facts. We can’t become the silent, reform-minded majority who allow ourselves to be outworked by a small but vocal minority who are fighting for the status quo.
The bottom line is, the AEA is alive and will continue maneuvering to maintain it’s power by any means necessary. Alabama conservatives may have let our guards down this time, but we won’t let it happen again.