Saturday, May 6, 2017

PA: Meet Scott Wagner

If you don't know Scott Wagner yet, you soon will. Wagner has mounted a loud, burly campaign for governor in Pennsylvania. And it is not good news for either educators nor other working folks.

"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.


  1. "...the first lesson of the current political silly season in America is that people really need to get off their asses and vote)."

    And the corollary of that lesson is that the Democrats (or someone) really needs to give us someone to vote for. I for one am not going to vote for "marginally less bad". If the only choices on your menu are a dirt sandwich or a poop sandwich, I'm not eating at your establishment. If that means the poop sandwich wins, so be it. Maybe people have to eat enough poop to get desperate enough to look for another alternative.

    "This being attacked business is part of the Wagner brand."

    A very important point that the Democrats also need to learn, especially as we're all cheering for Colbert's juvenile rant ending with "All Trump's mouth is good for is being Putin's c*ck holster". We can't win by going lower than Trump (or Wagner or any of 'em). For one, there is no lower - they already own that battle. For another, when you wallow in the mud with a pig, you only get yourself dirty. And the pig likes it.

    The only winning strategy there is is up. The Democrats (or somebody) needs to tell us what they stand for, not just that they're not Republicans. What's the plan for ending mass incarceration at home and military engagements abroad? What's the plan to equitably distribute wealth and reign-in billionaires, bankers, hedge funds, corporations, etc.? What's the plan to restore and improve public education? What's the plan to implement universal single-payer healthcare? What's the plan to keep workers employed and/or implement a guaranteed minimum income?

    I'm fully behind the first party or individual politician who can articulate answers to those questions, just just those who aren't as bad as the Republicans.

    1. To follow your analogy, while you're simply decline to support that establishment, milliins of people will be killed or have their lives destroyed by that establishment's competitor. You can afford to make false equivalences in the attempt to hold out for the candidate of your dreams. The rest of us cannot and understand that getting better candidates and a better party requires engagement and hard work (and possibly building a whole new establishment) while taking the best we can from what's currently on offer in order to protect the most vulnerable.

    2. Candidate of my dreams? Are you kidding me? How about one who isn't a nightmare? We didn't have that choice this past election. We had the candidate of Henry Kissinger vs. The Orange One. Seriously, either of those were acceptable to you?

    3. Incidentally, if you're worried about millions of people being killed, what about the people of Iraq, Libya, Honduras, Haiti, etc.? Don't they count? Or is it only Americans who do?

    4. I'm with Dienne. Yes, we need a new Democratic "establishment" - one that isn't beholden to corporate interests, and doesn't try to sabotage the politicians who aren't, like Bernie and Tulsi Gabbard

      Wagner is obviously an Ayn Rand fan (whether or not he's read her).

      "There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students." I don't know what he means by "exceed expectations", but it can't mean much, because no one could do anywhere near a decent job in such a situation. He couldn't be more clueless.

      Giving teachers "an environment in which they can thrive" doesn't mean rewarding them with merit pay, it means giving them the autonomy to exercise their profession.

      Totally clueless.

  2. Reminds me of another millionaire businessman who ran for governor with 'Scott' in his name.

  3. What successful businessmen (or women) like Wagner don't get is that the purpose of business and government are vastly different. The purpose of business is to supply a product and make a profit. Fine, if you're a business. But the purpose of government is NOT to make money, i.e. fill the government treasury. Yes, it's good to have a reserve. The purpose of government is to supply services to the public, either by supplying those services itself, or supplying those services by contract or regulation. And it needs to do it in a just way that stewards the public's resources wisely and well.

    Wagner is staunchly pro-business in a way that's good for business. What good does it do the public if the jobs that're created benefit business thru low wages and production that damages the community and/or environment? What good does it do the public if teachers' jobs are low wage, but cannot attract talented, dedicated people?

    We need to be done with both the 'run government like a business' AND the 'government can make it all better' ideology. The Wagners and Sanders both represent an untenable ideology that can't be sustained.