August 25, 2003
As the Sept. 9 referendum on Gov. Bob Riley’s tax and accountability package draws closer, parties on each side of the issue will hold rallies on campus Wednesday in an attempt to win over undecided voters.
The University, an official supporter of Amendment One, plans to welcome Riley and several pro-tax figureheads for an SGA-sponsored rally at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Quad near Denny Chimes.
In reaction to the University’s efforts, the College Republicans, the main UA student group fighting the Riley plan, has organized an anti-tax reform rally beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Ferguson Center Plaza. John Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, and other anti-tax reform leaders plan to speak.
College Republicans chairman Dylan Reeves said participants in the anti-tax reform rally plan to proceed from the Ferguson Center to Denny Chimes when they get word that Riley has taken the stage. He said the group wants to make the University and Riley aware of its opposition to the plan and the University’s support of it.
“The purpose of our rally is to create friction,” Reeves said. “We can’t let Gov. Riley come to our school and feel comfortable while he’s pushing a plan that doesn’t better our school or the state.”
Margaret Garner, co-chairwoman of the University’s Legislative Agenda Committee and one of the pro-tax rally’s chief organizers, said the College Republicans-sponsored event is not a concern.
“We are a country of free speech, and that’s why we love this country,” she said.
Robert Turner, president of the College Democrats, co-chairman of Students for a Better Alabama and SGA executive chief of staff, defended the College Republicans’ right to protest, though he strongly disagrees with the club’s position.
“They have a democratic right to express their political views in a peaceful manner,” Turner said.
However, Turner said the group only represents the old, ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party, a faction that he believes is being phased out by more progressively minded, moderately conservative Republicans like Riley.
SGA Vice President of External Affairs Thomas Govan, another main organizer of the University-sponsored event, said he wants the rally to create a positive atmosphere and hopes it runs smoothly.
The University is trying to diversify its rally by inviting representatives from K-12 schools and higher education, community civic leaders, state leaders, area residents and students, Garner said.
“We’re trying to make it as broadly based and community wide as possible,” she said.
Though some invitations are yet to be confirmed, the rally’s platform of guests includes: UA President Robert Witt; Shelton State Community College President Rick Rogers; Stillman College President Ernest McNealey; state Sen. Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa; state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa; UA System Chancellor Malcolm Portera; Johnnie Aycock, president of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Gordon Stone, executive director of the Higher Education Partnership; Joyce Sellers, superintendent of Tuscaloosa County Schools; and SGA President Katie Boyd.
Boyd, Riley, Stone and Witt will speak.
Garner said local K-12 cheerleaders will collaborate with the UA cheerleaders to perform a cheer, and the Central High School band will play.
The anti-tax reform rally, meanwhile, will feature Birmingham radio talk show host Matt Murphy and Stephen Flaherty of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group which has had an instrumental role in the fight against Riley’s plan. Reeves will also speak.
Reeves said his group is expecting a strong statewide turnout. He said word about the counter-rally has been traveling through the grassroots anti-tax reform grapevine.
Garner said she hopes the University-sponsored rally will ignite support for the governor’s plan, which she called a historic opportunity to make a fundamental difference in Alabama.
“I hope the rally is something that brings people together and makes them committed to studying the plan and the opportunity more fully,” she said.
Govan emphasized the importance of passing the plan, especially for the benefit of education.
“This plan is going to provide for the future of education in Alabama as well as the general well-being of Alabamians,” he said. “It will help provide the resources students need to make our Alabama education system second to none.”