Beginning in 1948, the early days of television, the catchphrase, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” became a part of pop culture.
Amazingly detailed practical jokes can take some time to develop. Planning, staging, and orchestrating a scenario that leads the hapless victim down a primrose path of emotion and incredulity takes time and planning. “Candid Camera” turned the practical joke into an art form.
Some have said that “Candid Camera,” with host Allen Funt, was the original reality show. An entire genre of prime-time viewing sprang out of that one gag-oriented, hidden camera show, with spin-offs, reboots, syndications, and international copycats around the globe, the latest iteration being the celebrity-focused show “Punk’d.”
For those that don’t track the latest trends in modern vernacular, “punked” simply means that someone has been the butt of a well-played, and often public, practical joke. Punking someone can be done in fun, with smiles all around.
But punking can also be hurtful. Punking can be spiteful. Punking can be insensitive and even bullying. “Candid Camera” and its spin-offs have faced lawsuits on multiple occasions for everything from bodily injuries, emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and more, because of punking gone too far.
And sometimes the “punker” just has little regard for the “punkee.” That is exactly what happened recently in the Alabama Senate.
Recent polling indicates an overwhelming majority of Alabamians support expanded school choice. Across the nation, Republican majorities have expanded school choice for their state residents. In 2023 alone, Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia have passed or are close to passing legislation providing families with the option for universal school choice, allowing parents to have the final say regarding the educational environment that best fits each child’s needs.
Alabama’s budgets show the coffers are full, boasting the largest education budgets in state history. Despite being flush with cash, Alabama remains at the bottom of the heap in education quality and outcomes. This is a gross injustice to our children, especially given that many states spend less per child than Alabama and yet rank higher overall – proof positive that money is not the issue, but rather how we spend that money.
Enter the Parents Rights in Children’s Education Act (PRICE) and State Sen. Donnie Chesteen, (R-Geneva) Chairman of the Senate Education Policy Committee and architect of the biggest political punking of 2023.
The PRICE Act is a landmark school choice bill on par with those in other states. Sponsored by Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) and other Republicans, the PRICE Act would establish that Alabama believes funds for education are first and foremost for the education of a child, and not so much for funding government public schools.
But nowhere in the nation has such legislation ever dismantled public education. In fact, the free market principle of competition often drives the public school system to improvement. But the teachers’ union and Alabama’s “educrats” fear change, and they certainly fear any loss of power. Follow the money and you will also find that a large swath of Republican legislators have been taking campaign donations from the teachers’ union despite the longstanding prohibition on doing so by the state Republican Party.
And so, with complete disregard, the great PRICE Act punk was orchestrated.
Despite his initial request for assignment to the education budget committee, Sen. Stutts was reportedly assured that Sen. Chesteen’s Education Policy Committee was the best assignment. Populism runs strong with this bill, so when it was announced that a public hearing would be held, a large crowd of supporters took time from work to travel to Alabama’s Statehouse to participate in the moment, supporting this highly sought and very conservative legislation.
Speakers for and against the bill were given the opportunity to speak, one of the leading proponents being Terry Lathan, the immediate past Chair of the Alabama Republican party. The crowd applauded loudly at every supportive speech. The energy in the room certainly favored a vote for favorable report to move school choice to the floor of the Senate. And that’s when it happened.
Without so much as a word of consideration, or a sidebar with his colleague, Chairman Chesteen inexplicably announced that the bill would be recommitted without a vote to the Clerk of the Senate for referral to the education budget committee, a referral originally sought. The room was stunned. The bill sponsor was caught off-guard and called the move a stalling tactic. This is not the usual way of things. The PRICE Act was punked.
At this point, the bill still has not been recommitted, and the legislative clock is ticking.
In eight years of service in the State Senate I saw some hoo-doo and backroom finagling. But the punking of the PRICE Act ranks as one of the most disrespectful and misleading incidents against the general public, and certainly of fellow caucus members who have held press conferences, done their research, and ably worked their bill.
Punking the public is bad form. Punking a colleague is unprofessional. Punking the PRICE Act is bad for Alabama’s children.