Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Alabama's 2014 Primaries - Initial Thoughts of john gunn

Ugh! Not the best night, as is usually the case, for those for whom I cast votes. I can't use "support" as it's rather rare I care all that much for options I have on a ballot. I'm used to losing and being frustrated with folks supposedly on my team, but this primary election has panned out even worse than I feared. It's usually therapeutic to write when I'm fired up. I'm also writing it for an audience somewhat aware of Alabama politics. Thus, I'll not bother with much sourcing or long explanations for background on what various people or groups are. Regrets for using the old blog to park my missive as I know the thing needs a serious scrubbing.

My take may change as new information rolls in, but I'll try to amend via updates other than minor edits around typos and such. I'm nothing more than a dabbler and don't presume to have any special insights. However, I hope at least some of what I'm thinking might have a little merit. I also know it's easy to snipe from the sidelines. I suppose if somebody wanted to talk to me about fleshing this out or paring it down for the future, I'd be willing. However, I'm not posting this as a way to troll through the wreckage and offer to rescue anybody for a fee. I know conversations around the state and possibly beyond will be occurring about this primary election. I might as well put my junk out there as I'd like to think that it would provide more help than harm.

I've been very worried that Darth Mabry at AEA and his political advisers were engaged in a counter-productive strategy over the long haul, but had hoped they'd perhaps do something at least useful in the short run. The consultant class is notorious for just focusing on the next election and all they need to do is win by one single vote. They often don't leave a lasting organization since most build out a campaign operation, possibly not one all that grass roots oriented, instead of a movement. I rather doubt anything might remain from yesterday's debacle as to even data which might be useful to AEA come this fall or into the future.

I suppose AEA, be it merely Darth Mabry or maybe a small group of insiders, figured the best bet was to pour pretty much all into the GOP primary. I liked the idea of going after Mike Hubbard on his tainted record and with the Lee County grand jury supposedly looking at him. How they bashed Brand D, Obamacare, trashed "liberals" while "conservative" was elevated, embraced Common Core criticisms from the fringe ... might have been worth it, at least arguably, to have taken out some of the Riley-Hubbard-Marsh faction. Maybe it is reasonable to view the primary voters in today's GOP as being reachable via such silliness but I never felt it an especially good strategy for two reasons.

1 - I believe Hofstadter's 'paranoid style" construct still stands and figured that Riley, Inc. would be able to effectively rely on long-cultivated demonization of AEA among their base. It's hardly a secret that there's internecine conflict in the GOP ranks, but for those trying to reel the establishment in they couldn't have picked a worse source of funding than AVOTE. I know money matters for electoral politics, one reason I get so frustrated with it, but any effort involving AEA money became immediately tainted among many primary voters. Rallying around the authoritarian leader might be a facet of this as well, but I'll move on. But before I do, the main alternative to the establishment in the Alabama GOP is the Roy Moore fundy camp. There are some tea party, libertarian, pro-coal labor, gun fans, and such sprinkled in. What seems rare are just old-school Republicans from the days before the shift of the GOP towards the Deep South.

2 - I've heard or read some people talk about how so many teachers and retired educators now vote for Brand R so it made sense for AEA to start trying to press back against the establishment faction. How Darth Mabry decided to do so via fringe criticisms of Common Core and other stupidity about Obamacare votes never made a lick of sense to me. Moving that electorate toward a Burkean or Agrarian view of what "conservative" can mean always seemed smarter to me. I'm a heathen, but using the language of faith about how to treat the least among us also seems like a decent path. The best way of reclaiming conservative from the likes of Mike Hubbard would have been by talking about an issue in AEA's wheelhouse, namely the switcheroo the Rileyites pulled with their Alabama "Accountability" Act. 

However, AEA barely touched on the privatization push and taking money out of local schools. They didn't remind the electorate of how "conservatives" rushed and sneaked that tax credit scholarship mess through. Why they didn't use the election as a way to introduce citizens to John Kirtley seems like a waste. His well-organized message machine is already trying to sell the Alabama primary as an endorsement of more privatization and how magic their campaign cash is. I'm not seeing that the AAA was all that often part of the discussion leading up to the primary. When it came up in some specific races, I actually heard some apologies and a effort to walk it back. By the way, I've yet to read or hear a cogent defense against what Judge Reese recently ruled.

In addition, I have seldom heard any politician or leader talk about how "accountability" is a one way street for the politicians. I still think talking about how Judge Reese's old 1993 remedy in the school funding equity case was ignored by the Legislature, the "lid bills" and current use vote in the 70s and early 80s, and the flaws in three decades of education "reform" is necessary. Too many citizens just don't understand the relationship of poverty and education. Ideologues selling magic market solutions like this reality to be ignored or at least pushed way down.

One more beef I have with what Darth Mabry did in this cycle is that his messaging makes a pivot in the next few months all the more difficult as to language. Funding of course is tapped out. Hell, I even hear he's going to run an independent against a good Democrat. That I like this independent as a person and politician matters not as the likelihood is Darth Mabry and his crack team are going to split that vote and allow a particularly odious rascal back in.

As a brief aside, can we also just admit the special interests are fighting over favor from the electorate? The Big Mules have the money and power. Pretty much all they need to do is make sure they don't get too crossways with each other. The way power is concentrated down in Montgomery and the lobbyists run the place is frustrating.

I'm terrified about every session, but absent some surprises in November or that Lee County grand jury throwing a wrench in things I'm afraid the Goat Hill Gang will run wild doing the bidding of Riley, Inc. I figure they'll go after RSA pensions, possibly do some radical tax plan with even more goodies for their business backers, dole out even more corporate welfare, push even more privatization of education and other public functions, etc. I've been watching what's happening in North Carolina and can see BCA, Alfa, APCO, and similar interests figuring now is the time to get what little is left on the wish list. They probably should feel they can act with impunity. Seriously, they're liable to "reform" this state to an even sadder place. Educators have often had tough times in this benighted state, but AEA has set their membership and many other citizens up for some very dark years I fear.

Continuing the darts at Darth Mabry, I know he comes from a  finance and business background. He was "Dr. No" in his role with the Siegelman administration, but please don't forget he also worked for both APCO and BCA. He's also supposedly quite close to Joe Perkins and Matrix. Even though Hummer howled over an AEA entourage attending a Democracy for America "Campaign Academy" last September, I'm not aware of a single thing the powers-that-be implemented as a result. DFA's stuff - and it's mostly what Wellstone offers and I also learned via Russ Feingold's field ops - works and it's lasting. It's also a damn sight cheaper than tacky mailers, attack ads, mystery money and other stuff Darth Mabry just pissed away. I understand there's a tough buy-out in his contract, but I sure hope there's a coup. The sooner the better as I see it. However, I've not been a member of AEA since 1987-88 and it's a matter for its rank and file.

I expect many on Team D, both in his ranks and out, are none too happy with how he beat up that brand. Lord knows it was already quite tarnished. The very idea that AVOTE was running against Obama, with an exception as to the Carter-Whatley race in SD27, will bother me for some time. I expect various organizations and free agents trying to improve this state may be unhappy with the tone and tactics as well.

If there is a coup, maybe somebody moving in can shift the focus to grassroots and movement building. Educators can get mighty busy, but they can still be effective in their communities. I'd argue they've no choice at this point. They seem to be unable to count on the AEA to take care of business. I'm a big fan of Antonio Gramsci and see educators as both public and organic intellectuals in his theory. Teachers can learn some better ways of messaging, be introduced to some ideas in jujitsu politics, learn how to capture and monitor communications, archive information, build out and maintain a resource bank, develop a better understanding of Alabama's history, framing, etc. I'm also thinking of building up of supports and nurturing relationships among educators and allies. As yet one more brief aside, AEA also doesn't seem to be doing all that good a job at pressing the press and using media coverage as a way to tell their story. I truly don't get doing a "no comment" when there is a big fat one over the plate just begging to be hit.

I also don't understand what ASEA, the trial lawyers, labor, Joe and Nancy (Bless their hearts) ... are doing more often than not. Argh!

That's enough for now. I will start to think about what, if anything, can be salvaged and a way forward toward November. I think it proper to build up the organization even now for the next session as electoral politics may be secondary to what they'll cook up for when Goat Hill is again occupied. I'm not sure how the lobbyists can trust this bunch, so mere citizens will get run over easily if the Goat Hill Gang wants to pass something, They've demonstrated via the AAA that they don't care about following either law or rules if the right person, like Bob Riley, wants something.

Feel free to drop comments here or try me on the Twitters.

Respectfully, john gunn    @JuntoGunto

Update - 05 June 2014 - I've three things. The first is especially brief. Somebody suggested I should be more clear in how hiring organizers and building out a movement is much cheaper (and I'd argue effective) than doing a modern ad/mailer based campaign. I don't know what sort of field operations anyone had where voters are identified and then mobilized to turn out. I assume something was done on that level. If not, please send me some Bourbon.

On the second matter, I saw some chatter on the Twitters about using AEA campaigning against Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in several primary races. (There's apparently even some distress about AEA doing politic at all.) As for CCSS, I believe there are legitimate concerns educators and parents have raised. I'll suggest that those have seldom been covered. Instead, the face of the opposition has been people largely operating out of Glennbeckistan. I've actually tried to engage a few of these people and it's been frustrating. Why Darth Mabry decided to saddle up with folks often working from fringe views was presumably a "politics makes strange bedfellows"moment. I'd have tried to shape the opposition, however, rather than just tossing in with them.

Continuing on that theme, I've often felt just as frustrated watching some of the people and groups cheering on CCSS and other education "reforms" built around standards, high-stakes testing, and three or so decades of the "accountability" movement. I'll submit that educators have often been left out of making education policy in recent decades. That reality is one main reason I don't think AEA or any group of educators can ignore politics. Here in Alabama, the contempt shown to the education community with the Alabama "Accountability" Act was just the worst example of disrespect. Listening to the average politician and partisan spout ideological platitudes really gets my Scots up. Watching slick operatives roll into Alabama selling market-based solutions to educational problems overwhelming related to poverty disgusts me.

I go back to Gramsci and other understandings I have about the labor movement, worker solidarity, etc. My bottom line is always that if you're always going to be impacted by politics so you might as well try to participate. I also believe that educators have a duty to the children, their communities, and their colleagues to stand up and speak out. 
Please also make sure there's a distinction between issue politics and electoral politics. If nothing else, educators should engage on issues.

Finishing with this facet, it's a mistake I'd argue to downplay how AEA has been viewed for many years as the main foil to certain other special interests who've often always run Alabama. Here's a little screencast I did a month ago that is somewhat related to what I'm trying to say here. Yes, I put my cursor on Joe McCorquadale when I was talking about Fob. Yes, I know I left off several of the lobbyists and other big players who hold no office but run things.) I truly don't understand why AEA is supposed to just let the like of Mike Hubbard campaign against "liberal special interests" without responding. Another fact is Hugh McInnish, a real piece of work, has a 'curbaea' site up dating back a decade.

Finally, if AEA favored candidates won in enough of those House races then it might help slow down the super-majority. Only the Senate has cloture, however. I also just can't imagine these new House members being able to withstand pressure and promises from within their own ranks and business groups back home. And again, the way they won those few races will, I'll argue, do more harm in the long run. I'm not familiar with the reality on the ground there, but I can't help but ponder if they might have been winnable without some of the tactics I complained about in the main body of my post.