By LARRY LEE
I am a candidate on the Republican ballot on June 5, 2018 for District Two on the Montgomery County school board.
This is an open seat, being vacated by my good friend Republican Durden Dean who is moving to North Carolina.
Had you asked me a year ago if I would be now running for this seat, I would have told you it was the farthest thing from my mind. But somewhere along the way Durden told me he would not run again and urged me to run for his seat. (He has one of my signs in his yard.)
I called my friend, Pat Wilson, Montgomery County GOP chair, and asked what was involved in qualifying. I qualified on January 29 and paid my $200 qualifying fee.
My great interest in public education goes back to 2008 when I wrote a grant and got a research project funded to study 10 high-performing, high-poverty rural schools in Alabama. Two colleagues and I drove 10,000 miles to study these schools and their communities.
The result was a nationally-acclaimed study called “Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.”
I met amazing principals, teachers and students doing amazing things in the face of many challenges. However, the narrative we most often hear about public schools tells us they are failures.
Since my first-hand knowledge did not agree with this viewpoint, I decided to try in my own way to tell a different story.
Since then I have written dozens of newspaper op-eds about public education, have presented to countless groups including the Alabama Association of School Boards, School Superintendents Association of Alabama and the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS).
I was honored by CLAS with their James Street Award “in recognition of lifelong work to ensure quality education for the children of Alabama.”
When I qualified I expected to be judged on my track record of service to education and my ability to be of service to the 29,000 students who attend Montgomery public schools.
NEVER did I think I would be caught up in political infighting that seems to be focused solely on something other than helping students, teachers and principals.
However, a couple of months ago I was summoned to appear before a committee of the Montgomery GOP to defend my decision to run as a Republican.
I presented my case, along with abundant documentation, and was unanimously approved to continue my campaign.
Now, with a month left until the election and after having spent $18,693.82, I am being challenged again.
What baffles me the most is that I thought one of the missions of the Republican Party is to INCREASE the number of GOP office holders—not eliminate them.
The Montgomery School Board presently has four Democratic members and three Republican members. Of the seven seats on this board, five are being contested this year, including all three held by Republicans.
The demographics of District Two are changing rapidly and not in favor of Republicans. For instance, while Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in this district 53 percent to 47 percent, Doug Jones beat Roy Moore 61% to 39%.
There are three Democrats running for District Two. One of them, Clare Weil will be extremely tough in November because of her deep family roots and ability to raise money. (She raised $11,130 in cash in just April.)
There is one other candidate in my Republican primary. He has no record of real involvement in public education and through April had only spent $1,443.73. It is hard for me to see him as a very viable opponent for Weil in November.
On the other hand, I can win in November because of the overwhelming support I have among educators. For example, I have 150 contributors to my campaign, more than 50 percent of whom are educators.
My challenge is being orchestrated by Perry Hooper, Jr. I say “orchestrated” because when questioned by Pat Wilson as to why he was involved in this challenge, he said “they” brought me the information. He then told her that “they” are some Montgomery attorneys.
So, it is not really Perry who came up with the challenge. Instead, he is toting water for someone else. In other words, he is trying to use his position with the state Republican Party for his own benefit.
The irony in this to me is that in 1968 I was a member of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee and distinctly remember handing out literature at the Alabama Fair for Judge Perry Hooper when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Jim Allen.
I told Perry, Jr. this recently at a Montgomery County GOP candidate forum.
(But as is often said, “no good deed goes unpunished.”)
Perry’s challenge focuses primarily on two points: That I voted in the Democratic Primary in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate and that I have done work in the past for the Alabama Education Association.
I DID vote for Doug Jones in 2017. And as the numbers I have shared for the district where I live show, so did many, many others who, like me, voted for Donald Trump.
The irony here is that just a few months ago Perry was embroiled in a controversy in Crenshaw County claiming to be the person who got two current Democratic officeholders to switch to the GOP. My guess is that they too voted in a Democrat primary. But apparently Perry has a double standard.
As to having done work for AEA on a contract, that is true. I write the most widely-read education blog in Alabama. (www.larryeducation.com) I travel thousands of miles a year visiting schools and coming up with stories for the blog. This is all done at my own expense.
Several years ago, when Henry Mabry was executive of AEA, he commented one day when I ran into him at the Statehouse how much he appreciated my blog. He asked who paid for this, I told him no one. He offered to give me a contract for $2,000 a month to help defray my expenses. Since I am retired and have no retirement other than my social security check, I was glad to get this assistance for a few months.
(Of course, Perry never mentions that I have also had contracts with both CLAS and the School Superintendents Association to write positive articles about public schools for state newspapers)
Here is where the greatest irony of all comes in. I have documentation that shows AEA having contracts in early 2015 with Conwell Hooper ($5,000), Perry Hooper, Sr. ($5,000) and Perry Hooper ($6,000).
That is collectively $16,000 A MONTH.
For doing what? I have no clue.
And interestingly enough, when Pat Wilson asked Perry at the candidate forum if he ever took money from AEA, he denied it. BUT did admit that he had received money from Henry Mabry.
As you and I both know, Henry and AEA were one and the same.
In summary, I think this challenge is frivolous, detrimental to the cause of building the Republican Party and absolutely ignores the central question at hand—how do we give better leadership to Montgomery Public Schools?