By Jonathan Hardison
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - One of the state Republican Party's leaders is planning a picket line in front of the state teacher's union headquarters starting Monday, and he's asking half of the teachers in that group to resign their memberships in protest.
"Tomorrow I hope to start a campaign to get at least half of AEA members to resign from the organization, because at least more than half are Republicans, conservatives, conservative Democrats or independents, and I think they could spend that $350 more effectively," said Rick Sellers, a Byrne supporter and member of the AL GOP Executive Committee.
Sellers says the AEA is trying to influence the Republican runoff by funneling at least $3 million to Dr. Robert Bentley through PACs and other contributions. The AEA says they're not endorsing either candidate, but they do want their members to vote.
"We think Mr. Byrne and his Republican friends are not interested in seeing educators go vote because they're worried we won't vote for them," said Lance Hyche, a local AEA rep. "And that may be the case on July 13th."
This all stems from an ongoing battle between the AEA and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne, and what could be a key group of swing voters in next Tuesday's runoff. Byrne makes no secret of his dislike for the AEA and what he says is its corrupting influence on state politics.
Sellers, who is one of his supporters and a member of the state Republican Party executive committee, is taking that fight to the AEA, planning a daily picket line in front of AEA headquarters starting Monday.
"Oh yeah, there are Republicans, Democrats, and independents that are all part of AEA," said Bryan Sanders, Bentley's campaign manager. "Under Republican party rules, anybody that wants to vote in the Republican primary and primary runoff is allowed to do so. We welcome all conservative Alabamians that want to join the Republican party."
Sellers says he thinks conservative AEA members could get the same AEA-like benefits at a cheaper rate by forming their own group, but how successful does he hope to be going against one of the state's most powerful lobbying groups?
"I've probably got a half-dozen teachers who are already writing letters to resign from the organization," Sellers said. "I don't know how successful we'll be, but I'm gonna make as hard a push as I can. Not just this week, but even more so after the Tuesday elections when it becomes obvious where the money's coming from and how it's being improperly used."
Sellers says he plans to picket in front of the AEA headquarters building for 2 hours everyday between Monday and next Tuesday even if he's alone.
The AEA says it is encouraging its members to go vote on July 13th.
Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.
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