Editor’s note: Cameron Smith’s Republican credentials can not be questioned. including a stint as executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. So when I saw his recent piece on AL.com about AEA rising from the ashes, so to speak, it got my attention.
When the GOP took control of the state legislature in 2010 one of their primary objectives was to gut AEA. And they did an excellent job, especially in stopping payroll deductions to fund their political action committee. This was a crippling blow, which, coupled with a total lack of decent leadership in Montgomery, had many calling for last rites.for the organization.
But as Smith points out below, AEA has slowly, but surely, been able to reload its PAC and how has nearly $4 million in hand. And whereas at one time AEA almost exclusively supported Democrats alone, those days are gone and AEA now has no problem contributing to Republicans:
“Years ago, I remember watching Dr. Paul Hubbert in the gallery of the Alabama legislature. Folks huddled around him and awaited instructions like officers around a general. Even if you opposed him, it was hard not to be impressed by Hubbert’s political acumen.
As votes were called, legislators would turn around and look up to the gallery for guidance if they weren’t sure where he stood on the bill. That was the zenith of the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) influence in Alabama politics. After a decade in the political wilderness, the AEA is back as a major political player in Alabama.
“Dr. Hubbert’s lasting gift to the AEA was working tirelessly through Christmas in 2010 to convert our members’ political support into bank drafts after the legislature eliminated the dues checkoff,” said AEA Executive Director Amy Marlowe.
That wasn’t the case five years ago. Then-President Sheila Remington didn’t paint a pretty picture of the AEA’s condition. “We’re out of the business,” Remington told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We’re out of giving people money to run campaigns…as far as people calling and asking us for campaign contributions, I don’t see us getting involved with that anymore.”
The AEA’s political Death Star that Hubbert has worked decades to perfect literally exploded.
“The AEA paid a political price for playing politics outside of education,” said Marlowe, “We’ve learned that we’re the most effective when we’re targeted and strategic about accomplishing our objectives on behalf of our members.”
The AEA was so reviled by Republicans that the Alabama Republican Party adopted a rule banning the party from accepting funds from the National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates including the AEA.
It’s also when people stopped paying attention to the AEA as a political force in Montgomery.
Internalizing Hubbert’s mantra seems to have paid off for Marlowe.
Marlowe has Democratic bona fides and was part of the AEA when it aggressively went after Republicans, but she’s not afraid to support conservative candidates if she can wield influence when it matters.
More importantly, the AEA is strategically deploying capital. In the 2018 cycle, the AEA spread around hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alabama Republicans in spite of the party’s guidance to avoid AEA money. Since 2019, the top two recipients of AVOTE funds have been Republicans.
That’s not a bad session for a political shop that was out of business in 2016. While the AEA’s new political Death Star might not be fully operational just yet, the AEA is certainly striking back. The question is whether they’ll be a force to help pull Alabama’s children out of the educational basement or a hindrance in that effort. Will an “AEA Republican” label be a political weight or an asset? Only time will tell, but AEA is again a force to reckon with, and Alabama’s political class would be wise to start paying attention.