Former gubernatorial candidate's nonprofit goes silent
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 01, 2013 | 5435 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
2010 Alabama Republican gubernatorial nomination candidate Bradley Byrne is shown in Oxford. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
2010 Alabama Republican gubernatorial nomination candidate Bradley Byrne is shown in Oxford. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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MONTGOMERY — Bruised in a battle over charter schools at the end of the 2012 legislative session, the nonprofit group Reform Alabama has been out of action for months. But former gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne says the group, which he founded, has not disbanded. It's just regrouping.

"We want to be quiet and listen to what legislators are saying," Byrne said. "We'll be active again by the start of the legislative session, in a month."

Byrne, a former community college chancellor, formed the group in 2011 after losing a bid for the Republican nomination for the governor’s office in 2010.

In the election, Byrne cast himself as a no-compromise reformer, looking for ways to make the state more efficient. Reform Alabama carried that theme forward, and kept Byrne's issues in the spotlight. Byrne traveled the state promoting more government transparency, constitutional reform and a number of changes to education, many of them inspired by changes to Florida schools under Gov. Jeb Bush.

In 2012, the group pushed for the creation of charter schools, a measure that seemed likely to pass in a Legislature with a Republican supermajority. But the charter bill crumpled, largely due to objections from school superintendents.

On May 11, the group sent out a crestfallen tweet about the failure of the charter bill: "It's a sad reality that Louisiana is making strides while Alabama remains so far behind."

As of Monday, Reform Alabama hasn't posted anything on Twitter since. The latest dated post on the organization's websiite was put up in August. And for four days in December, the group seemed to vanish altogether. The Reform Alabama website expired on Dec. 27, according to godaddy.com, which owned the domain name. There was no listed phone number for the group.

Ashley Newman, the group's acting executive director, told The Star on Monday that she'd just been informed of the website's expiration.

Newman, who worked as campaign finance director for Byrne's gubernatorial campaign, said she's currently the only staff member at Reform. (Byrne, as chairman, isn't part of the staff.) The group's official headquarters, a one-room office in a suite on Zelda Road in Montgomery, is also the home of Newman's accounting firm.

Such arrangements are not unusual in Montgomery, where even influential groups sometimes consist of little more than a small office and a flashy website. But Byrne and Newman acknowledge that the failure of the charter bill forced the organization to pull back and find a new way to operate.

"After the charters failed, and the governor said he wouldn't try again in 2013, we had a problem," Newman said. "That was a big issue for us."

Newman and Byrne said the group was seeking opinions from lawmakers and looking for ways to promote reforms that could actually pass.

"We're seeking opinions from people within the leadership and outside the leadership," Byrne said.

Neither Byrne nor Newman would say what the group's 2013 agenda would look like, saying it was still being planned.

Byrne said the group did see passage of some of its favored bills in 2011 and 2012, including a bill that required electronic filing of campaign finance reports. He was quick to point out that Reform Alabama also supported economic development legislation promoted by Gov. Robert Bentley.

Both Byrne and Bentley have denied reports that the Republican majority is divided, more or less, into pro-Byrne and pro-Bentley factions.

Reform Alabama's website was up and running again a few hours after The Star spoke to Newman. And as the group's lobbyist, Newman said, she'll be working with lawmakers when the Legislature convenes in February — though it's still not clear what the agenda will be.

"I will be there," she said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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