|"PSEA-- I intend to kick your ass!"|
Wagner's political career started recently and fairly spectacularly. After PA Senator Mike Waugh resigned, Wagner threw his hat in the ring and was boxed out by the GOP establishment in PA. So Wagner went up against the GOP nominee and the Democratic nominee in a special election to fill the seat. And he beat them both, as a write-in. Not just beat them, but clobbered them with very nearly more votes than the two other candidates combined (with only 17% of the electorate voting-- the first lesson of the current political silly season in America is that people really need to get off their asses and vote).
Wagner is 60-ish, a successful businessman who runs both a garbage and a trucking company. He did not get to be a millionaire by being shy or humble; he announces himself not by expressing hope or intention to become governor, but declaring he will be the next governor of Pennsylvania.
Wagner has opinions about many things. He believes, for instance, that one likely cause of global warming is that the earth is getting closer to the sun every year. He also allows for the possibility that all these human bodies on the planet are giving off enough heat to raise the global temperature.
Wagner believes that the government in Harrisburg is disconnected from the real world, and in fact Wagner's frequent invocation of the "real world" is one the recognizable traits of the businessman-turned-legislator. The only real world, of course, is the one he lives in, where strong, rich men should not have to deal with government regulations or workers unions. Here he is explaining why the minimum raise is just fine and what we need are lazy people to pull up their pants and take the jobs they're offered.
Wagner has some thoughts about how to fix schools in Pennsylvania, based on some fairly simple understandings of the situation. Short answer: it's all the union's fault.
Every time your property taxes go up it is not because the cost to educate a student has increased. It is because the cost of health benefits have gone up, pension costs have increased, or union-negotiated salary increases have gone into effect. None of these things benefit students.
It's this kind of pronouncement that suggests that Wagner is either a dope or a liar. Pennsylvania pension costs have in fact ballooned, primarily because our legislature made bad plans and bad investments that were upended by the crash of 2008. And if you don't see the connection between what you pay teachers and what teachers you have in a position to benefit students, well-- you have a problem.
Wagner does see some sort of connection. Sign him up for merit pay:
There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers that would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for him or her.
Sign him up also for ending tenure and seniority, creating "contract transparency," as well as establishing an Achievement School District (even though the OG ASD had a head start on all the rest and is still failing).
The "Fix Pennsylvania's Education System" portion of his campaign page uses politely coded language.
He is all in for school choice so that parents can have "their hard-earned tax dollars follow their child," which convenient overlooks the fact that school choice also means that their neighbor's hard-earned tax dollars will also follow the child, but nobody gets an accounting of where the tax dollars go. Wagner does anticipate this by calling for an accountability system that will be applied to all schools receiving public tax dollars so that all can be compared, except that no such system exists. I'm also wondering-- if Education Tax Credits are in the mix, does their use of private tax-exempt contributions to third party players mean that all the laundering makes them not-public dollars, thereby exempting all those schools from Wagner's system?
We must ensure that are our teachers are given an environment in which they can thrive. This means ensuring that good teachers are rewarded and given opportunities to grow, and that teachers that fail to meet the high standard that the vocation requires are removed from the system.
That means getting rid of unions and job security and regular pay scales.
And Wagner knows the basic playbook-- cut money for school districts, and then call them bad names for suffering from low funding. Wagner called the Erie schools "disgusting," even though he had helped slash their funding in the first place.
Wagner is, in fact, promising to be a governor in the Scott Walker mold. Wagner actually got to introduce Walker two summers ago at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference.
"Nobody has been attacked more for defending our fiscal conservative principles than Governor Walker,” he continued. “Public-sector unions and liberal special interests have tried to derail his agenda time-and-time again, and each time Governor Walker has won and delivered for taxpayers.”
This being attacked business is part of the Wagner brand. Like Walker and Trump, Wagner sells himself by the people voters can piss off by voting for him. This creates a bit of a challenge for groups that want to oppose him, because his base is going to eat that stuff up. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf already has a PAC up and running, and it is already taking shots at Wagner. All that does is give Wagner another chance to use the phrase "the governor and his union allies." Wagner's temper tantrum/borderline assault on an opposition photographer earned him a viral video looking tough and some Fox news coverage talking smack at George Soros.
His message is, at this point, a familiar one-- elect me and you will really stick it to Those People. My fear is that we'll get a Walker and Trump rerun. Wagner will do something outrageous, his opponents will holler, "Look! See that! Surely that disqualifies him!" and his supporters will just cheer, both for whatever he did AND for his opposition's freak out.
Wagner is bad news for Pennsylvania and really bad news for public education. The road to the governor's election is still a long one, but defenders of public education in Pennsylvania cannot afford to fall asleep at the wheel.