By Steve Flowers
A good many of you let me know that you agreed with my column last week when I suggested that stealing from the Special Education Trust Fund budget to resolve the dilemma in the General Fund is not the solution needed during the looming extraordinary special session.
This potential raid on the schoolchildren’s and teachers’ money is not the first time that this idea has been suggested. Every time a crisis comes up in the General Fund, some governor will try to raid the Education Trust Fund. The most powerful governor in state history tried to do it, and now 50 years later, Gov. Bentley is testing the water. Believe me, if George Wallace could not succeed at it in his prime when he owned the legislature, Robert Bentley sure cannot do it today.
One of the most legendary battles in state legislative history was between George Wallace and Dr. Paul Hubbert over raiding the Education Trust Fund Budget. It was 1971 when Hubbert took on the Goliath of Alabama politics, George Wallace, and beat him. It was that remarkable David versus Goliath victory that propelled Hubbert to stardom in Alabama politics, and he became the King of Goat Hill after that monumental conquest.
Hubbert had become the head of the Alabama Education Association in 1969. The AEA was a toothless social organization run by the school superintendents. Hubbert took over the reins of AEA when he was only 33 years old.
Even though at the time AEA had no financial resources, Hubbert convinced his teachers to openly endorse Albert Brewer over George Wallace in the legendary 1970 Governor’s race. Brewer led Wallace in the first primary, but Wallace pulled out all the stops and ran the most overt racist ads ever used in American political history and overcame Brewer in the runoff.
Wallace became governor again in January of 1970. Wallace believed in repaying his enemies. It was early 1971, and Hubbert had just hired former State Senator Joe Goodwyn to help him politically. Wallace called Goodwyn and Hubbert out to the Governor’s Mansion. He asked Hubbert, “Don’t y’all have about 0 million over in the Teacher’s Retirement System?” Hubbert said, “Yes, Governor, that’s about right.” “Well, you know,” Wallace continued, “federal judge Frank Johnson has ordered us to update our mental health facilities and it is going to cost million, what do you think about us borrowing some of your money to pay for this problem?” Hubbert said, “I don’t mind lending the state the money as long as we get the same return.” Wallace had dropped a hint. Goodwyn told Hubbert after the meeting, “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of that.”
Sure enough, a month later Wallace called Hubbert to a meeting in the Governor’s office. Hubbert’s entry into the Governor’s office was like a gladiator going into a lion’s den. Wallace
had the entire House Ways and Means and Senate Finance and Taxation Committees awaiting Hubbert.
Wallace danced up and down the room extolling the need to use the education dollars to support mental health. After the tirade, a bold 35 year old Hubbert looked Wallace squarely in the eyes and told him, “Over my dead body.” Hubbert rallied the state teachers like they have never been rallied before.
Wallace continued with his plan when the legislature convened in May. Hubbert bolstered his troops. There were 400 to 600 teachers a day descending on the legislature. Wallace dug in deeper. Neither Hubbert nor his throng of educators backed off. Instead, there were close to a thousand a day coming to Goat Hill.
The legendary Representative Pete Mathews, who was the Wallace floor leader and Ways and Means Chairman, said, “I’ve been in the legislature a long time and have dealt with every kind of pressure group but I have never seen anything like when the teachers found out someone was going to fool around with their retirement funds.”
When the vote was finally taken, the teachers and Hubbert beat George Wallace in his prime by a vote of 92-9. Wallace called Mathews frantically and said, “Move to reconsider.” Mathews retorted to Wallace, “Reconsider hell, we done lost five of our nine.” That was the day Paul Hubbert earned his spurs.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column on Alabama politics appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.