Union General William Sherman provided black union troops with land and a mule as a reward for their loyalty to the cause, particularly for Sherman’s march that ended in the burning of Atlanta. Alabama’s version of General Sherman, the Big Mules, rewards its faithful too by putting former governor Riley in charge of organizing troops for a march that may end in the burning of Alabama’s republican party.
There’s a brand new old battle raging in Alabama for the heart and soul of the republican party. Former Governor Riley has joined forces with two leaders of the Alabama legislature to root out any candidates and elected officials who they claim are RINOs. Detractors claim it’s a selfish act and designed to split the GOP as a whole into two separate factions, we see it as more of keeping power where it has always been through Alabama’s republican party--in the hands of the real shadow government of the Big Mules.
Bradley Byrne, the Riley backed gubernatorial candidate, is busily at work with his own group to reform Alabama claiming the non-profit group will:
1. Institute a more transparent state budget process
2. Allow stronger oversight of campaign finance laws
3. Create a searchable database to help the public track where candidates get their money
4. Give more local control over how state education dollars are spent
Like most political promises, it sounds good and hits all the right notes that resonate with voters, but considering the source, we don't think all is as it appears.
Our suspicion is that these are cleverly designed tactics schemed up in a war room to undermine the current administration, and to distract the Tea Party group of conservatives, who are now incensed by Riley and Byrne’s latest maneuvers, from what the real issue is--the Big Mules want complete and total control of the party.
And they are well positioned for the move because they co-opted the republicans ranks long ago. The Tea Party arm of the republicans is loudly crying foul, with most of their anger directed at Riley. They claim that what he's doing will split the party in two and result in the entire party being weakened. We say that if the angry crowd in the Tea Party leaning GOP wants to take up arms against something, then they need to amass their ranks and go after the real invaders of their party and get them out for good before they can take on Riley and Byrne.
There is historic precedence for our theory:
The Big Mule Coalition focused its major political action on the Alabama Senate using a tactic referred to as "18 plus 1." In the 35-seat Senate, the coalition needed 18 seats to hold a majority and thus control the legislative agenda. In the executive branch, the governor had the ability to veto legislation, and in a tradition not broken until the late twentieth century, the lieutenant governor helped organize the Senate and select legislators to chair the various committees.
Thus, control of 18 senate seats plus either the governor's or lieutenant governor's office meant control of state government. Members therefore funneled campaign money and other resources to races for the state senate and either the governor or lieutenant governor. Their efforts were very successful when it came to the legislative races that were local in emphasis.
In another popular Big Mule tactic, a corporation such as the Alabama Power Company would buy the loyalties of recent law school graduates by placing them on a monthly retainer. They rarely did any work for the corporation, but its status as a client would prevent them from taking any cases against it. If any of these men had political ambitions, they would be beholden to the corporation. These retainers represented a major source of income for lawyers just establishing their practices in Alabama's small towns and cities.Governor Riley knows all about this power structure because both of his campaigns received hundreds of thousands in donations from the Mules. His political loyalty was purchased long ago, and much like the young law school graduates, he's beholden to them for his political career. So is Byrne and present Governor Bentley. These recent salvos by Riley and Byrne are not based in any reform of the republican party so much as they are for the interests of the Big Mules.
When Bradley Byrne was running for governor, his campaign records listed huge donations from this powerful group, while Governor Bentley was struggling for donations. Alabamians are still arguing over what really sunk Byrne, the AEA and Stan Pate, or Byrne’s negative turn during campaigning that seemed to turn off the voters. We think it’s more complicated than that, and what people are debating as the real cause is a distraction.
Once Byrne started his downward spiral of no return, almost overnight the Mules poured hundreds of thousands into Bentley’s campaign. Governor Bentley was asked about the Big Mules and BARD contributions to his campaign on a Birmingham radio show, and the man who claimed “we know who every donor is and can account for every dime” answered the host’s inquiry with “Never heard of ‘em.”
Since Byrne’s appeal to the voters turned sour so fast, we can’t help but wonder if his demise was helped along by the Mules more so than AEA, but since the AEA is such a hated organization, bad ol’ democrats and all of that, the real saboteurs flew under the radar as they often do.
Did a meeting between Byrne and these power brokers go south? Did Byrne tell them his plans might not be their plans? On the intelligence and sophistication scale, Byrne and Bentley are on opposite ends of the line, though neither is as sharp as they think they are.
But Bentley was the more malleable of the two candidates, and he’s where he is because that’s what serves the Mules for the moment.
Bentley fell quickly in line with the game and filled his transition team with Mules and BARD operatives by appointing Charles McCrary, Stephen Bradley and S. Eason Balch among others.
We suspect it took a lot more than the AEA and Hubbert, who is publicly perceived as the most powerful man in Alabama politics, but actually pales in comparison to the long-standing power and money of the Mules, to knock Byrne out of contention.
Hubbert's power base is democratic and the Mules focus on republicans. In the battle between the two republican candidates, Byrne and Bentley, there had to be a few moles in Byrne's camp. Stan Pate was one mole disguised as a tool for the AEA.
A Decatur Daily article that listed the 12 most influential people in Alabama quotes Pate about the muscle of Alabama Power and McCrary:
"It's a powerful organization, and he's got a lot of tools in his toolbox," Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate said of McCrary.Former Governor Riley weighs in on McCrary:
"He walks into that job with the credibility that goes with it. You put with it his credentials and the relationships, and like it or not, when they want to weigh in on something, they do."
"He walks softly and carries a big stick of his organization behind him," Pate said. "He is right up in the middle of every significant issue that involves the state."
"People of Alabama don't understand the tremendous input in economic development Alabama Power has," Gov. Riley said. "Charles' greatest asset is he can take a complex problem and simplify it down."Riley has it half right: McCrary does have tremendous economic influence, but what else he has in that “toolbox” is the same ability the Mules have always had--the power to build a Mule barn right there on Goat Hill and load it up with his personally approved stock.
And he does just that year after year, quietly and effectively, while the voters and most of the media are given a shiny thing to follow as the man behind the curtain makes the trick work.
The Mules will break pattern and hedge their bets by co-opting willing democrats, but the republican platform of big business gives them the perfect vantage position to pick off the republicans.
Now we have Riley back on the scene, aided by Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh, all in cahoots to drain money from the state party to their own organization, who will endorse candidates "that pass the litmus test of Bob Riley." The self-proclaimed Tea Party faction of the republicans is seething with anger over Riley's sneak attack, and calling up their ranks of true conservative faithfuls to go to war with Riley and his operatives. But if they don't get the commander, the won't win the battle and this will go on and on.
Our advice to them is don’t be so tunnel visioned by the front and center troops that you forget to guard your flanks. Because your real problem are the mule trains gathering on your left and right, and the moles that are already in your ranks that serve one commander, not the party.
Forty acres and mule is symbolic of an impetus to fight hard and remain loyal and it worked well for Sherman all those years ago. In the modern day, access to unfettered amounts of cash hidden in the smoke screen of donations, non-profit groups and promised political position, replace the old symbols. Riley has demonstrated a taste for these that is unequaled, making him the obvious choice as the Mules general.
Maybe it's past time for the Tea Party republican faction to reassess what they are being drawn into and who they are really fighting. This is not about a war with two groups of the same camp, it's about the total domination of one party by special interests at any cost.
Wars have been won throughout history by studying the strategy of previous battles and developing a keen sense of who the enemy is. This is a war that has a lot of history too, and if the Tea Party faction of the republican party wants to do more than take the field for the day, they would be wise to identify their true opponent and proceed accordingly.