Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1423: Thinking about AEA in a historical way

  “Have you seen Dr. Hubbert’s letter?” That’s how a friend informed me of a developing controversy involving AEA (Alabama Education Association). I had not seen the letter, but I hastened to read the news article forwarded to me by e-mail. I was deeply concerned about AEA, and it spurred me to think about AEA in a historical way.

  The Alabama Education Association has been a powerful force for progress in Alabama. Through AEA, White and Black leaders learned to really work together across historically wide racial divides. The modern-day AEA was forged from the merging of the all-White Alabama Education Association and the all Black Alabama Teachers’ Association. They learned how to truly work together, which made so many things possible in Alabama. This example of bringing people together across racial lines is not widely appreciated but is central to AEA’s rise to power in Alabama.

  AEA grew powerful by organizing its members to protect their interests. It broadened and deepened its power by protecting public education beyond the interest of its members. AEA, whose membership was originally limited to public school teachers, expanded to all education employees and two year college personnel. Ultimately, the power of AEA springs from its massive membership exceeding 100,000 at one time. AEA added to that power by building a strong financial base.

  AEA further enhanced its power by becoming a power player in the Alabama Legislature. The first test came years ago when AEA took on Gov. George Corley Wallace on an education issue. It prevailed when few thought it was possible. Its power was multiplied when the organization became a bottom line player in state elections as well as in the legislature.

  Without AEA, Alabama would be a very different state. Those who desire to take Alabama back have done and are doing everything possible to destroy this organization. I am very concerned and want to do everything within my power to prevent the destruction or diminishment of AEA.

  A little broader context is important to frame the central importance of AEA. There has been an ongoing effort to depower every organization that tries to move Alabama forward. The Alabama Trial Lawyers, now the Alabama Association for Justice, was depowered through the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Legislature. The Alabama State Employees Association was depowered through legislation and other attacks. The gaming entities were viciously attacked and destroyed through unjust prosecutions. Labor was greatly diminished by various laws. The only power left standing was AEA because it was too strong to easily destroy.

  Dr. Paul Hubbert was the architect and engineer who built the AEA into the power that it became. It was his life work. Others were instrumental but he was the face and spirit of AEA. I truly appreciate Dr. Hubbert. His vision is great. His judgment is astute. His commitment to a better Alabama is total. I know he wrote the letter to the AEA Board setting forth concerns about the management of AEA out of genuine concern for the organization and for Alabama. I also know he did not send a copy of the letter to the media. I think a board member may have shared the letter. I still visit Dr. Hubbert from time to time. At 78, his body is challenged but his mind is as sharp as ever.

  As soon as the Alabama Legislature went Republican, their number one goal was to crush the Alabama Education Association. The election was in November 2010. In December, just a month later, there was a special session of the Alabama Legislature. Seven pieces of legislation were enacted with four aimed directly at AEA: (1) membership were dues prohibited from being deducted for AEA and similar organizations; (2) PAC-to-PAC transfers were prohibited; (3) education and other governmental employees were prohibited from serving in the Alabama Legislature; and (4) lobbying approaches were limited. The bills were camouflaged in the veil of ethics reform. However, they were clear attacks on an organization that helped move Alabama forward. Dr. Henry Mabry has faced these attacks head on. I respect his will to fight these regressive attacks will take us back to the past. I was very concerned and wanted to help.

  Now with AEA under relentless attack from the outside and growing challenges on the inside, we all must be concerned. We need AEA. In fact, Alabama needs a strong and powerful AEA. So when I was called about this current challenge, my concern was deep and moving. I began to move my own way.

  AEA’s Board met. I do not know what was decided. I believe the issues raised by Dr. Hubbert were discussed in the four and a half hour closed door executive session. I hope and pray that AEA meets these internal challenges so it can help all Alabama meet and overcome the growing external challenges. I will do everything I can to help.

EPILOGUE – What do we do when something important is at risk of being lost? I had to ask myself this question this week. I hope the answer I gave to myself is the right one. I hope my actions bear fruit for AEA and Alabama.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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