The situation when votes for a school board municipal election were solicited with limo rides and booze may never be reprized by the University of Alabama’s “Machine.” The University students that turned out in droves to vote in the last municipal school board election may have lost interest.
This year’s school board election, according to a well placed source, has no Machine candidates running for either the the Chair or any board member position. Cason Kirby, who defeated District Four’s Kelly Horwitz four years ago won’t run for reelection. Neither will School Board Chair Lee Garrison.
For that matter Kelly Horwitz, after a three year legal struggle to challenge the last election, will not run. Apparently the legal battle has caused both Horwitz and Kirby to lose interest.
In a Tuscaloosa News story by Drew Taylor, Horwitz is quoted as having said, “Between putting in four years on the school board and three years in the legal battle of the election, I need to put some time and energy into my job and into my family.”
Taylor’s story gave this history of the legal battle:
After the 2013 election, questions arose regarding the legitimacy of a number of ballots that were cast. Kirby had 416 votes to 329 for Horwitz, but Horwitz claimed voter fraud occurred to get Kirby elected. She said that free drinks, concert tickets and other inducements were promised in exchange for votes. She also said that some voters falsified their residency information.
On Sept. 6, 2013, Circuit Judge Jim Roberts dismissed the case on grounds of limited evidence of Horwitz’s claims. After an appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that 159 ballots cast during the election should have been thrown out and that the case should receive another hearing.
On Sept. 27, Roberts dismissed the case again because Horwitz’ legal team was unable to subpoena the 159 people who cast invalid votes and question them in court. Only 40 voters testified, all of whom were students.
School Board Chair Lee Garrison, who pioneered the ploy to make the student vote instrumental in Tuscaloosa’s municipal elections, also has decided not to run for reelection. He had previously served four terms as the Council member for District Four. It is widely believed that his political success had depended on getting out the University’s Machine vote. Garrison’s political career began when he unseated Don Brown as District Four’s Council Member in 1997.
An article in the Tuscaloosa News by Stephanie Taylor explained why a law was passed Alabama Legislature in 2015 to help avoid some of the problems associated with the student vote:
The Alabama Legislature, at the request of the Tuscaloosa City Council, last year passed a law moving municipal elections from August to March, to avoid problems of residency requirements of students who move to Tuscaloosa during the summer before the academic school year.
The change followed Horwitz’s election challenge and the 1997 election challenge of City Council candidate Don Brown.
Brown was defeated by former Tuscaloosa City Councilman Lee Garrison, then 22 and a UA senior, 857 to 773.
Brown filed a challenge in Circuit Court claiming that as many as 265 illegal votes were cast for Garrison.
In the end, former Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Robert B. Harwood ruled that 81 votes cast largely by UA sorority and fraternity members were subject to possible disqualification. But, because 84 votes were needed to overturn and nullify the election, Garrison remained council member for District 4, where he served for 16 years.
In the article by Taylor, Horwitz summed up the dilemma of the University’s Machine’s interference in local elections:
“For too long, the adults in our community have been willing to turn a blind eye to The Machine, treating it as child’s play,” Horwitz said. “They dismiss it as an entity that plays games with student elections and homecoming queen. But it is past time to acknowledge that this secret organization is a training ground for behavior that brings disrepute to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and our state.”
After years of a legal struggle, and apparent inaction by the University of Alabama’s administration, it’s all come down to this.
The University’s Machine is out. Yes. But some of the current school board candidates have ties to the Chamber of Commerce, which was indirectly involved in the attempt by a PAC to unseat School Board incumbents in the last election. One theory about the Chamber’s interest in the School Board involved a real estate deal.
A post in the blog “Read Think Listen” read:
It has been documented that the campaigns of the board of education challengers last year were largely funded by donations from businesses and individuals who were connected to the construction, real estate and banking industries. Why were these folks so motivated to change the board? Based on the acrimony surrounding the choice of location for Tuscaloosa’s new technical school and the fact that many of the individuals and entities from that battle contributed to challengers in this one, I propose that they did not trust that school board to do their bidding. There are a number of businesses and individuals, many of whom donated to challengers’ campaign funds either directly or through Mike Echols’ PACs, which stand to profit from school construction. Could it be that this land deal was always planned to be held secret pending the outcome of the school board elections?
Is this all a confirmation of the epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose ( The more things change, the more they stay the same )?