Teachers’ Unions Shake Up Political Categories in Alabama
Today Alabamans go to the polls, again, to determine the Republican candidate for governor after a June 1 primary forced a runoff between Bradley Byrne, a former state chief of community colleges, and Robert Bentley, a state representative. It’s a complicated race, in which Byrne, a classic target for RINO charges if there ever was one (he was a former Democratic state senator and a career trial lawyer, to boot!) is nonetheless getting endorsed by most Republicans over Bentley, an evangelical conservative allied with … the teachers’ unions?
Bentley, who finished second in the primary and was out-fundraised by his opponent by a margin of more than three to one, nonetheless seems poised to stage a political comeback. He attributes his recent surge at the polls to his outsider status, but Byrne’s camp says it has more to do with outside money:
Byrne’s camp contends that outside groups — the Alabama Education Association in particular — are responsible for the change in the candidate’s fortunes. Byrne communications director Marty Sullivan said that the AEA has run $2 million in attack ads slamming Byrne over the past several weeks; the group has also been encouraging Democrats to vote in the open election.
Why is the AEA spending $2 million in a Republican gubernatorial primary? That’s a lot of money, considering that Bentley’s campaign only raised about $600,000 total. Turns out that Bryne and the Alabama teachers’ unions have been feuding for the last 16 years:
As a state senator, Byrne was a constant enemy of the Alabama Education Association (AEA)—once staging a one-man filibuster against a bipartisan compromise bill that would submit teacher dismissal actions to arbitration—and his antagonism only intensified during his stint as Governor Riley’s appointed overseer of the state’s two-year college network. [...]
The AEA—run by Democrats, remember—now cheerfully admits that it provided massive financial support for a shadowy group called True Republican PAC, which surfaced during the primary season to run attack ads against Byrne, including a notable one questioning his fidelity to Christian fundamentalist views of the Bible and evolution.
So, Byrne’s feud with the teachers’ unions seems to have flipped all possible political categories. Many Republicans are now sympathizing with the guy, despite his otherwise moderate credentials, while Democrats have flocked to his hard-right political challenger.