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Home » Chalk Talk – HOT! HOT! HOT! Politics Heats Up

August, 2006

With Congress in recess, August in DC becomes a slow-baked steam bath. Great time for all reformers to fold their tents and head to the beach, right? Sure, but keep your eye out for the local pols who will use the time to stroll along the beaches, meeting and greeting constituents. The same holds true for those staying home. Politicians use August, especially before an election, to attend summer gatherings and ask for your support.

Whether or not you’re in a hot election state this year, there are several things that you can and should do to make sure your voice is heard and that education reform is at the top of any candidate’s radar. Even if they are opponents, knowing you care puts them on notice you’ll be watching.

The first important step is to use the last few days of official summer to ask candidates if they’ve filled out CER’s candidate survey. It’s posted online, easy to do, and the more often candidates are queried and challenged by us about their views on education reform, the more likely they’ll want voters to know where they stand on the issues.

I know education reformers don’t need to be reminded to take their voting decisions seriously – it’s in our nature to do so, simply by how we define ourselves. The challenge is to dig deeper, to scratch beneath the surface and get under the veneer candidates coat themselves in when campaigning.

Some of you may say, well, Jeanne, it’s a pretty straightforward two-party system. You look over the candidates’ brochures. One says union-endorsed, and the other claims to be an advocate of school choice. That’s a no-brainer, right?

Well, it could be. But, just because someone holds the mantle of change, don’t assume they are really good and can be expected to support reform fully. Candidates for public office deserve a thorough and fair airing of their positions and actions, if any, on issues of importance to potential supporters. No where is this more important for education reform than throughout campaigns for state office, where devoted, principled politicians can make the difference between good and bad policy that may last our lifetime.

The difference between a candidate who will really get the job done once elected and one who cares more about making all parties happy is not often easy to discern, but you need to know if yours will be a representative who pushes, or who is content to accept ‘good-enough.’ There are people currently running for elective office on various levels who have a reform pedigree, but have been all too willing to compromise on important positions – like whether a charter law is really strong, or provides financial parity for charter students. Questions about how much a potential elected official is willing to give – or willing to stand on principle – are critical to the future of reform, particularly given the power of incumbency.

The cautionary tale is to beware of candidates who have a history of regularly compromising principles to pursue passage of ill-conceived or watered-down laws – simply for the sake of saying they helped pass a law.

As Barry Goldwater said in 1964, citing a famous phrase from Cicero, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

So take another sip from the daiquiri before facing the onslaught of Back-To-School activities, and read on as we continue our summertime civics studies with a review of some of this fall’s more compelling races.


Ember Reichgott Junge is a charter pioneer from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who authored the state’s law and has been a champion since she left state office. As a Minnesota Democrat running in a primary field of 9 for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, many reformers are watching for this potential hero of charters to make it to Washington. She’s facing Republican Alan Fine, but the saying in MN goes that if she wins the primary on Sept 12, she’s almost assured her seat in this heavily Democratic territory.


Dick DeVos is Michigan’s heir apparent for education reformers, and is challenging once-popular incumbent Governor Jennifer Granholm, whose education leadership has been sorely lacking, particularly when it comes to helping expand opportunities for children who need them the most. In fact, she hardly went to bat for an effort to fuel more charters in Detroit a couple of years back, despite the promise of millions from a local philanthropist willing to support the effort.


Connecticut’s race for Governor is getting a yawn from a lot of observers, mostly because incumbent M. Jodi Rell has been a disappointment to progressives who seek to turn around failing systems in places like New Haven and Hartford. She has thrown a bone to charter supporters there with a few hundred dollar increase in charter funding, but it’s nowhere near the estimated $4,000 disparity that exists in the Constitution State. Her challenger John DeStefano, Jr. is currently the Mayor of New Haven, and right now the pundits put that race at Rell with the strong lead of 64 to 32 percent. While we’re in Connecticut though, don’t forget that a huge champion of education reform in all its incarnations, Joe Lieberman, is forced to run as an independent because his Democratic challenger has the state’s anti-war-in-Iraq supporters ganging up on ole Joe, despite the fact that the man has done more for his state in his few terms – and a lot for kids nationwide, too – than most senators can claim in a lifetime.


Republicans Charlie Christ and Tom Gallagher are squaring off on September 5 for the Republican ticket for Florida governor. Both men have been education commissioner and insurance commissioner in the state. Christ is now Attorney General and is considered the heir apparent to Gov. Jeb Bush, whose leadership in education reform – and willingness to challenge the status quo – is applauded by supporters and even recognized by those on the other end of the political spectrum who appreciate integrity.


A tough race is brewing in Maryland between Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Republican Governor Robert Erhlich. When it comes to reform, Erhlich is the first governor to actually succeed in making some headway with new opportunities for kids, albeit his charter bill was weak. But O’Malley won’t even concede that charters work, and opposed a takeover of outrageously bad schools in his native Baltimore where proficiency is in single digits. So even if he is that cool dude who runs a band, we’re hopeful reformers will consider all the issues before casting their vote, not just whether or not he plays the guitar like Jimi Hendrix.

On the state legislative level, challenges are clearly being waged as well that deserve our scrutiny. Stay tuned for the release of the CER survey responses to use as your guide to decide who’s best, and in the coming weeks you’ll get some more insights into who’re likely to help – or hurt – educational achievement and opportunity for all children in their state and in this land. UPDATE: CER’s Education Reform 2006: A Voter’s Guide is here – check it out!

And if you know something you’d like to share, be sure to send us an email or your thoughts about candidates at and we’ll share the keen insights of our readers as we go.

Now get back to that sangria or Corona or your water, or even that coffee if you’re at your desk, and enjoy the rest of your real summer!

We’ve got some hot politics brewing this fall.