Saturday, February 25, 2017

WI: State Superintendent Vs. Voucher$

On April 4, two former school superintendents will square off for the state superintendent spot. The shape of that race tells us a lot about what the new politics-as-usual will look like in the years ahead.

Wisconsin state animal. She is not rich, either.

In one corner, we find Tony Evers. Evers has been the state superintendent of public instruction since 2009; before that he was deputy superintendent for eight years. He's a Wisconsin boy, born raised and 3educated, and he married his high school sweetheart. He's also the president of the Council Chief State School Officers. Policy-wise, he's a mixed bag-- on the one hand, as CCSSO president, he's been a Common Core advocate; on the other hand, he has steadfastly resisted attempts to expand vouchers and privatization in Wisconsin.

For those reasons, he has been in the GOP cross-hairs for a while. Don Pridemore (his real name) had a brief career in the legislature, during which he backed legislation for photo ids for election and a resolution declaring unmarried parenting as a contributing factor in child abuse. He took a run at the state superintendent job in 2013 and got his ass handed to him by Evers.

So this time around, Pridemore reached out to another unsuccessful superintendent candidate, and Lowell Holtz was brought in to try again. That led to several contentious moments with a third candidate-- John Humphries (in Wisconsin, the state superintendent race is non-partisan-- everyone runs in the primary, and then the top two vote-getters from the primary face off in the general election). Humphries claimed that Holtz offered him the bribe of a $150K job, a car, and the right to manage five big Wisconsin districts. Holtz said, no, it was an offer from an unnamed business leader to both of them. They both called each other big fat liars.

Then it turned out that Holtz hadn't even expected to do any of the hard work of running for office himself, that he felt that the deal was that an advocacy group run by Pridemore would do the grunt work. Much of this was documented in emails that Holtz sent with his school account (oops).

Why were Holtz and Humphries, neither of whom emerges from accounts as a particularly formidable political player, attract such attention and support?


Or as Holtz said when he was explaining why he really hasn't done any local fundraising, "The folks that support the vouchers nationally have lots more money than I could ever raise in the state of Wisconsin."

And why would the business interests and voucher fans think that they had a better shot than usual against the popular Evers? The clue rests in this paragraph from Wisconsin State Journal coverage of the race:

Evers is seeking a third term in the wake of massive membership losses for the state’s largest teachers union — a strong campaign contributor for Evers in the past— setting the stage for the potential of third-party groups spending on behalf of Holtz to ensure the election of a voucher supporter.

Scott Walker's assault on public sector unions was never just about putting the help in their place, but about reducing their strength as Democratic Party supporters. Unions were, among other things, an effective way for working people to put together the same kind of clout-commanding contributions that rich folks are now allowed to toss around with abandon (thanks, Supreme Court). So now even clumsy amateur-hour puppet candidacies like Holtz's can stand a chance because they can muster the big bucks, while Democrat money has been hobbled. 

Evers cleaned Holtz's shiny clock in the primary, and so he still looks like the odds on favorite, and he has a well-stocked war chest, but he's still worried.

“If it’s all in, it’ll be very difficult to compete with that amount of money. There’s just not that much in the state that’s available,” Evers said. “And we’re talking about Amway money and the money from the family that owns Walmart and I don’t know any of those people.”

The election will be April 4. We'll have to wait and see how badly national voucher fans want it, and how much they're willing to spend to buy it. Pay attention. This is how these sorts of elections work these days.


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