Bishop State investigation at center of Alabama furor over “fuhrer”

MONTGOMERY Ala.

The emotion-charged German title “fuhrer,” usually associated with Adolf Hitler, has created a furor between Democrats and Republicans that could be a buildup to the next race for governor.

The Republican leaders of the Legislature are demanding that Joe Reed, the associate executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, apologize or be fired for comparing state junior college Chancellor Bradley Byrne to a fuhrer, a title used by Hitler.

Reed said he won’t apologize.

“This is nothing but an effort to boost Bradley Byrne’s campaign for governor two years from now,” said Reed, who also serves as a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

House Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said the letter was not intended to boost Byrne. “But Mr. Reed probably did more to boost his candidacy than anything we could do,” Waggoner said.

House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the letter was simply about what words are inappropriate in the debate over how to address problems in Alabama’s junior college system.

“The AEA is fighting and scratching to do whatever it can to protect a corrupt system,” he said Wednesday.

The war of words started last week when Reed wrote a letter to Byrne, complaining about his treatment of Yvonne Kennedy, a Democratic state representative from Mobile and the newly retired president of Bishop State Community College in Mobile.

On July 31, Kennedy’s last day on the job, Byrne accused her of insubordination for not firing a college employee convicted of a felony and warned her not to interfere with school operations after her retirement.

Bishop State is one of the two-year colleges at the center of a state and federal investigation into corruption.

In Reed’s letter to Byrne, he said, “The position of chancellor was established by law and constrained by law. The position of Fuhrer is self-appointed. You are the chancellor; not the Fuhrer! Please read the law!”

Hubbard and Waggoner fired off a letter Monday to AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert, saying Reed should either apologize or be fired.

“While it is acceptable to have differing opinions, comparing Chancellor Byrne with one of the 20th Century’s most despicable dictators and murderers is not,” the two legislators wrote in their letter.

Byrne was a Republican member of the Senate before Republican Gov. Bob Riley got the State Board of Education to hire him as chancellor in May.

Board of Education member Randy McKinney, a Republican from Orange Beach, sent his own letter to Hubbert, complaining that Reed was equating “Byrne’s firing of a handful of corrupt and questionable community college employees to the actions of a man who exterminated six millions Jews, operated concentration camps and triggered the start of World War II.”

The letters didn’t make much of an impression on Hubbert because he said the writers released them to the media before they delivered them to him.

Hubbert, who’s also a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said he responded in writing to the letters. But he is not releasing his response.

He said the Republicans want to generate news coverage, “and I’m not going to participate in that.”

Reed, meanwhile, said he wrote his letter to Byrne to stand up for Kennedy because she is an AEA member. He said Republicans have intentionally misinterpreted the letter to boost Byrne’s profile.

“At no time was Hitler mentioned. At no time was there any comparison,” Reed said Tuesday.

Alabama’s next race for governor is in 2010. Speculating about potential candidates is popular fare in the capital, and Byrne’s name has come up repeatedly since his selection as chancellor in May.

Byrne has tried to downplay the talk, but Reed insists the GOP letters and gubernatorial politics are connected.

“This is nothing but a Republican ploy,” Reed said.

– Associated Press



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