Key state Democrats scold party’s 2 new House members

Published 8:46 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

MONTGOMERY — The honeymoon for Alabama’s two new Democratic congressmen didn’t last long.

Two leaders of the Alabama Democratic Party — Joe Reed and Paul Hubbert, top officials of the Alabama Education Association — are unhappy that Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright voted with Republicans in opposition to the economic stimulus package, which could help shore up the state school budget.

Hubbert said they “turned their backs on thousands of hardworking educators.”

Reed said Monday he was also “absolutely surprised” that they both voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, when it was an Alabama woman who brought the equal pay issue to the national stage.

“I hope it’s not a trend. I hope we can charge it to naveté,” Reed said.

Griffith, a former state senator from Huntsville, took office last month, replacing retiring Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer in the 5th Congressional District.

Bright, the former mayor of Montgomery, replaced Republican Rep. Terry Everett last month. Bright was a major victory for the Democratic Party because he is the first Democrat elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District in 44 years.

Reed, chairman of the Democratic Party’s black wing and AEA’s associate executive secretary, outlined his concerns in letters to both congressmen, which Reed made public.

Hubbert addressed his concerns in AEA’s newsletter, distributed to thousands statewide. The newsletter’s front page featured unflattering caricatures of Bright and Griffith and carried the headline: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Hubbert wrote that the incentive package could prevent layoffs for more than 3,000 public school employees in Alabama. He pointed out: “Only 11 Democrats voted against the new Obama incentive package and two of our three Congressional Democrats were among the 11 voting ‘no.’”

On both bills, Democratic Rep. Artur Davis was the only member of Alabama’s delegation to vote yes. Griffith and Bright voted with the four Republicans in Alabama’s delegation and with most of the Republicans in the U.S. House.

Bright said Monday he supported funding for schools, but that was a small portion of the $819 billion package passed by the House.

“My vote against the stimulus package was not against funding for schools — it was a vote against a bill that I believed contained too much spending on items that would not immediately stimulate the economy, which is the sole purpose of a stimulus bill,” he said in a statement.

Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Monday the congressmen’s two votes did bother some Democrats, but party members should remember that both men represent districts closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.