The Price Act Got Punk’d

By: Phil Williams

Beginning with the early days of television in 1948, the catchphrase, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” became a part of pop culture. An entire genre of primetime viewing sprang out of that one show with spin-offs, reboots, syndications, and international copycats around the globe. Some have said that Candid Camera, with host Allen Funt, was the original reality show.

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.

Multiple versions of the gag-oriented hidden camera franchise have appeared on U.S. television for over seven decades with 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 as a result of punking gone too far.

And let’s face it. Sometimes the “punker” just has little regard for the “punkee.” That is exactly what happened in a recent series of events in the Alabama State Senate.

Recent polling indicates an overwhelming majority of Alabamians support the concept of expanded school choice. Across the nation, Republican majorities have expanded school choice for their state residents. Just in 2023 alone, Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia have all passed legislation that provides families the ability for universal school choice by allowing parents to have the final say as to what educational environment best fits their child’s needs.

A review of Alabama’s budgets indicates the coffers are full with 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 a number of 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 PRICE Act and State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R – Geneva), Chairman of the Senate Education Policy Committee and the biggest political punking of 2023.

The Parents Rights in Children’s Education Act (PRICE Act) is a landmark school choice bill on par with those passed in other states. Sponsored by Senator Larry Stutts (R – Tuscumbia) and other Republicans, the PRICE Act would establish that Alabama believes that funds for education are first and foremost for the education of a child, and less for funding the government system we know as public schools.

Nowhere in the nation has such legislation ever dismantled public education. In fact, it is often found that the free-market principle of competition drives the public school system to improvement. But the teacher’s 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, Senator Stutts was reportedly assured that Senator 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, and support this highly sought and very conservative legislation.

Speakers for and against the bill were given the opportunity to speak with one of the leading proponents being Terry Lathan, the immediate past Chair of the Alabama Republican party. At every supportive speech, the crowd applauded loudly. 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 now be recommitted without a vote to the Clerk of the Senate for referral to the education budget committee which had originally been sought. The room was stunned. The bill sponsor was caught off-guard and called it a stalling tactic. This is not the usual way of things. The PRICE Act had been 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. 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 worked their bill ably.

Punking the public is bad form. Punking a colleague is unprofessional. Punking the PRICE Act is bad for Alabama’s children.

By: Phil Williams