No doubt $10,000 can go a long way in Alabama politics.

That is why it was noteworthy when State Rep. Danny Garrett returned a donation in that amount from the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

Garrett spoke to 1819 News about his decision, which he said was based on becoming Chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee and wanting to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.

“I always would evaluate decisions based upon the merits of an issue, but I didn’t want anyone to think my decision was influenced by the fact that I had received a political contribution from the AEA,” said Garrett.

As chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, Garrett has control over the agenda and which items are reviewed in committee.

While he acknowledges why the public is interested in political donations, Garrett indicated the best interests of his district would always be his guiding principle.  

“When someone gives me a political contribution, if they call me on an issue, I’m going to listen,” Garrett said. “But that would not sway what I do because I make what I think is the best decision for my district.”

1819 News recently reported on the increased funding from the AEA toward GOP candidates, despite the party platform discouraging such donations. In this election cycle through February, the AEA has made 68 donations to GOP candidates, compared to only four in 2014.

Asked whether the current AEA is in line with GOP priorities, Garrett echoed the sentiments of other colleagues, who view the current AEA differently than their predecessors.

“I came (to the legislature) in 2014 after the GOP had a supermajority, so I don’t have the personal experience to when the AEA was really powerful,” Garrett said. “The reps who came in 2010 have a different experience.”

In fact, Garrett has often seen the AEA as a helpful partner.

“My working with the AEA through that time has been fairly productive,” Garrett said. “Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but it’s been productive, and I don’t think they are the same organization they were.”

As far as the priorities for the rest of the year, Garrett is focused on where the need is the greatest.

While Alabama schools infamously rank among the lowest in the nation, Garrett identified where the focus must be to give future generations the education they need.

“With the budget we passed last week, what we really have to do in the state is look at these areas that are so woefully underperforming and do things to try to help that," Garrett said. "My goal is to get all the ideas on the table that we think will improve our performance.

“You can do the math and realize that we have a lot of schools that are very good, but we have more schools that are just woefully below [standard], so if we can even raise those schools, 20, 30, 40%, we would see a huge improvement.”

Garrett is from Trussville, Alabama, where the city school system regularly ranks among the best in the state.

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