All special interests are not created equal

Sorry, Steve. Read my headline. Read it again. And again.

Sink in yet?

Let me explain. My friend Steve Newton has taken to his blog Delaware Libertarian in this weekend before the Red Clay School Board election to — ostensibly — call out hypocrisy. I’ll put it out there again even though most of you already know this: I’ve been heavily involved with Kenny Rivera’s campaign for almost two months. So let’s just put that out there. I will also add that this post is in no way meant to reflect the Rivera campaign and has not been cleared or endorsed by anyone involved. These are my words.

In his first school-board-related post today, Steve decides to take on the special-interest money ON OUR SIDE because we’ve decided to question the funds from a “shadowy organization” that has spent thousands of dollars on mailers for our opponent, Joanne Johansen. He goes after DSEA and the Working Families of Delaware PAC and attempts a false equivalency to make those organizations look like they’re doing nothing better or worse than the Voices 4 Delaware Education Action Fund.

Well, Steve, you’re wrong. And attempting to make yourself immune by calling out our line of defense before we get a chance to use it makes no difference:

Undoubtedly, somebody will post a comment here saying to the effect, “At least DSEA was transparent enough for you to find out about all this.  Voices is hiding behind campaign loopholes.  So our candidate is more moral and better.”

Exactly, Steve. That is the line I will use. But I won’t muck up your blog by putting it there and confirming your prediction. I’ll put it right here. THE DONATIONS MADE TO WORKING FAMILIES AND DSEA ARE ALL PUBLICLY AVAILABLE ON THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF ELECTIONS WEBSITE. THIS IS TRANSPARENCY. VOICES’ FINANCIALS…ARE NOT!

Steve, none of us has ever complained that Voices 4 Delaware should exist. Never. We’ve never said that organizations WITH special interests should ever be barred from engaging in the political process. Never. We’ve never said an organization like Voices shouldn’t be able to back candidates of its choosing. NEVER.

What we’ve said is that organizations involved in the political process should be good enough to disclose the individuals who donate to their cause. This allows those interested in knowing who’s funding the operation their chances to see just what’s going on. This is not Voices 4 Delaware Education Action Fund. No one knows who’s given them thousands of dollars to bankroll extremely nasty campaign mailers in Christina School District. What do they have to hide? If you’re gonna go nasty like that, you’d better damn well expect people to ask who the hell you are and what your motivations are.

Now on to our race, the Red Clay School Board race. Here goes: Joanne Johansen was the first candidate to file in the Red Clay School Board race. I heard about Joanne from several friends and had heard even that several of the Red Clay School Board members thought very highly of her and that she’d serve effectively on the school board. “Great!” I thought. That’s what we need. Someone with deep community roots who knows exactly what’s going on. Eric Randolph is not running for re-election, so a great person in his place is what we need.

I’d heard some word, though, that another candidate might be interested in running. This was confirmed about a week later when a government teacher from Brandywine High School announced he’d be running as well. Wow. A teacher. Considering Eric Randolph is the only current educator on the Board, this is an interesting development. I mean, it would seem natural to have a teacher on the school board, no?

So we had two candidates. I had heard from neither of the candidates, but would certainly participate in what is becoming an annual ritual: the Red Clay Education Association’s school board candidate interviews. I’d participated in the previous two years’ interviews and have found the process to be very engaging.

For those who don’t know, Red Clay sends out a list of questions to all candidates before the interview. We feel this is the best practice so no candidates arrive with a sense of “Gotcha!” in the interview. We ask all candidates the SAME pre-set list of questions, with some additional topics of conversation potentially covered. All, questions/topics, though, are listed.

We held candidate interviews on a Thursday in mid-March. Both candidates showed up on time and ready to go. Joanne went first and answered our questions fine and confirmed to us that she’d make an excellent candidate on the Board. Kenny went after and it was just a little different. In every respect, he understood what a school board member is charged with doing (as Joanne did) AND THEN SOME. His responses were at times exhaustive. He had so much to say. So many ideas. The interview went well over the hour we’d allotted each candidate. The decision of the committee — which included some Red Clay Secretaries who sat in on the process, but were not given voting status because the secretaries were just about to unionize with DSEA — was unanimous. Considering the breadth and depth of Kenny’s responses to our questions, we felt he was the best choice to recommend to our Representative Council at the next meeting. Rep Council voted unanimously, as well, to endorse Kenny Rivera for Red Clay School Board.

And so our involvement in the campaign began.

Contrast this with the Voices 4 Delaware school board campaign, which has been phony and disgusting from just about day one thanks to the involvement of one Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, former WSFS CEO. Let’s back up. And PLEASE stick with me, because this is going to be long. Very long. Please first read my friend Frederika Jenner’s excellent blog post from January entitled “Goodnight, Moon,” in which she takes Mr. Schoenhals to task for some irresponsible rhetoric before the State Chamber of Commerce Dinner. She follows up with another post here. Here’s video of Skip’s comments at that dinner:

Skip cast his lot with this foolishness well before the campaign and he has continued ever since. In an email dated April 4, Skip sent out an urgent request to — presumably — his friends and supporters for money. Money he says would be spent on candidates “Voices 4 Delaware identified.”

Let me say something. There is most certainly another difference between Voices 4 Delaware and that evil, corrupt teachers’ union: We at least interviewed and deliberated before endorsing a candidate. This joke-of-an-organization Voices 4 Delaware did no such thing, though they probably wish they did. Or perhaps they thought Skipper was jumping the gun by making this announcement too soon.

Y’see, less that two weeks after Skip’s email asking for money to support the Voices-endorsed candidates, on April 13, several candidates received a survey from Voices 4 Delaware. Now, I don’t know about you, but don’t organizations tend to provide surveys and complete interviews BEFORE making endorsements? Voices had already identified “its” candidates, so why send a survey? Maybe they wanted to assume an appearance of fairness?

Upon reviewing the questions, Kenny said the same thing I did. “They want us to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these incredibly complex questions?” He balked at this. And we laughed a bit. He refused to answer the questions without being able to provide more detailed answers. This is how Kenny thinks. This is how he responds. His answers may not always be the easiest. They may not always be the quickest. But he refuses to play into tepid soundbites and the oversimplification of very big ideas just to placate some seemingly flies-by-night organization looking to influence education policy in the state of Delaware.

I could go on on this topic. I could go on about how questionable Voices’ connections to other “education reformers” in this state are. I could point you to the registration of Voices 4 Delaware’s website, which clearly shows a connection to the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. I could go on about how we still don’t know the interests and motivations of this group because their shady campaign finances don’t allow us to delve deeper. I could go on, but I won’t.

I will, instead, return to the major crux of my post title: All special interests are not created equal. It’s a pretty hot phrase to throw around, especially in an election year. Demonizing all those “special interests.” Those “special interests” that are taking candy from babies and pushing grandma over a cliff. Steve likes to play the moral equivalency game when it comes to special interests, saying, well, if DSEA can do it, so can Voices. And, like I said above, sure, Voices should be able to do what they’re doing, but with an appropriate amount of transparency.

But where Steve gets it wrong is equating our special interests with their special interests. All special interests are not created equal. The special interests that stand out in my union involvement are ensuring equity for all of our students. The special interests that stand out in my union involvement are seeing that all of our schools achieve an unparalleled level of excellence. The special interests that stand out in my union involvement are seeing that we get the most committed educators and support professionals in our school every day of every year. The special interests that stand out in my union involvement are making sure that the basic needs of all of my students are being met day in and day out. The special interests that stand out in my union are making sure my school board acts in a fiscally transparent and responsible manner and doesn’t revert back to the flagrant abuses of the 90s and early 00s when my union was completely absent from board-election activities. The special interests that stand out in my union involvement are one in which we attempt to engage all members to be active and aware of the issues that don’t simply surround their pay and benefits, as many in the media would like to project.

Yes. We have special interests, everyone. Special interests that set us aside from other industries but that, perhaps, may be interests the public holds as well. We do very much have special interests. The difference, though, between our special interests and the special interests of Voices 4 Delaware Education and, to some extent, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, is that our interests are pretty clearly defined. We are educators. We walk into those schools every damn day with the goal of doing something for those children. Be they upper, middle, or lower socioeconomic status, we walk into those schools with the HOPE that we’re affecting some positive change in their lives and imparting some knowledge that will make them kinder and more respectful human beings.

It is Voices’ special interests that are so undefined. Nebulous. Mysterious. If I were to go with what I know as well as the associations this organization holds to the business community, then I believe it’s probably fair to say their special interests aren’t nearly as altruistic or benevolent as ours. They want schools to be run like businesses. Where production is standardized, much like the tests our students take only about ten times per year. They want students put through a machine so they come out the perfect producers and consumers to work for them. Though it’s left unsaid because these “shadowy organizations” are so mysterious with their motives, I’d bet Mitt Romney’s $10,000 that there’s not much to argue against what I’ve just written.

And that’s where I will fight. I will fight to see to it that “production” in our schools is not “standardized.” I will fight to see to it that our students are treated as the amazingly fascinating and individualistic creatures that they are. They deserve and require teachers who will see those qualities in them on a daily basis and not treat them as cogs in some bizarrely fetishistic profit-driven machine.

There is a difference between DSEA — the teachers’ union — and Voices 4 Delaware Education, an organization whose membership remains unclear and whose funding is an absolute mystery. Yes, they both represent special interests. However, all special interests are not created equal.

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23 comments on “All special interests are not created equal

  1. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  2. […] here All special interests are not created equal @ Mind of Mr. Matthews. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  3. Assid says:

    “Y’see, less that two weeks after Skip’s email asking for money to support the Voices-endorsed candidates, on April 13, several candidates received a survey from Voices 4 Delaware. Now, I don’t know about you, but don’t organizations tend to provide surveys and complete interviews BEFORE making endorsements?” This survey doesn’t appear to be from the Action Fund. If that’s the case, the survey wasn’t used to endorse candidates, but simply to inform voters of candidate stands.

  4. Therein lies a problem, Assid. One of PR. This organization has done a crappy job of differentiating between its Action Fund and less-politically-inclined sister organization.

  5. snewton929 says:

    Mike

    I read it four times. Is that enough?

    I didn’t raise this issue until Kenny started raising it in his videos, in his robo-calls, and in his literature. Maybe you should read that sentence again.

    If the candidate puts up “shadowy groups” and “transparency” in his campaign materials, then his own backing becomes fair game

    So I pointed it out: ed reformists, as you call them, are way back behind the funding of BOTH campaigns.

    Can’t get away from that Howard Weinberg connection to DSEA, Working Families PAC, and Vision 2015.

    Can’t get away from the fact that Weinberg is one of the people sitting at the table with Skip every time the Vision 2015 Implementation Teams sits down to plan, and that the Executive Director of DSEA has thereby publicly supported many of the things you rail about above.

    RCEA appears to have cleaned up its act in candidate selection, but in 2009 the RCEA President bragged about selecting “good” candidates before filing. Read that again: BEFORE filing.

    Moreover, since a high percentage of Kenny’s campaign has been related to the fact that he is a teacher, and that the board needs a teacher’s voice, it is difficult to believe (although you effectively maintain it above) that his being a teacher and a DSEA member bore no weight whatsoever in your selection process.

    But Rodel or Voices or whomever did NOT recruit Joanne Johansen, even though they decided to support her. And given the thin difference between Joanne’s and Kenny’s positions, I have to believe that Voices decided to support Joanne for one primary reason: RCEA/DSEA wasn’t backing her.

    My best honest guess is that if you’d selected Joanne, they’d have backed Kenny.

    Yep, I do believe the process is that cynical.

    I have never said all special interests were created equal, only that all special interests have operated in much the same way. And the hypocrisy I find is all the people who have either participated, kept silent, or personally profited from DSEA pushing over a million dollars into elections in this state over the past five years (a million dollars!!!) suddenly whining when somebody else gets into the act by following their playbook.

    And I would point out that–despite the cloak of a 501c4–local bloggers have pretty much laid bare Voices 4 DE Education. We know who the director is, we know who filed the organizational prospectus, we know which interest groups they represent, we know that their agenda is to push Vision 2015, Common Core Standards, and all the usual party line.

    The only thing you don’t know at this point about Voices is exactly who the donors are, but that’s not really true, either. Everybody actually pretty much knows what corporate and non-profit interests are involved–any “aha” moment would be . . . anti-climactic.

    So frankly, I think the transparency concerns are a bit of an act, a bit of campaign posturing that is wearing pretty thin.

  6. John Young says:

    Until they show us the donors, I will keep flinging stones. Eventually, one may hit target.

  7. John Young says:

    Although, I must admit, I’m not sure if my arm strength is good enough to hit Cincinnati.

  8. Frederika says:

    Matthews: Sounds like a stump speech to me.

  9. reality check says:

    Mike,
    You’re much to intelligent to waste your time and excellent writing skills in debating the obvious attempts by the Chamber of Commerce, the business roundtable, 2015’s Skippy, Rodel, Innovative Schools and Edison Learning’s obvious attempt to purchase influence on school boards so that they can suck more money from the taxpayers with privatization/voucher takeover of public school “funding”. Time spent arguing with the misinformed and intellectually stunted likes of Mr. Newton would be better spent looking into the record of the current administrations’ (federal and state) willingness to facilitate such a blatant takeover by the aforementioned groups who have absolutely no educational experience, knowledge, background or legitimacy.

  10. John Young says:

    They were caught in their planning meeting:

  11. lastDEconservative says:

    “I mean, it would seem natural to have a teacher on the school board, no?”

    No.

  12. Such trenchant analysis, lastDEconservative.

  13. Assid says:

    Sad too see snewton929 undermine Joanne Johansen,who was recruited to run long before the unions did their endorsements. She had been active in education for years, and earned her support for good reasons, & not for your bullshit cynical reasons.

    Mike, the two Voices’ org’s are probably complementary, but serve different purposes. Planned Parenthood has a c(3) side that provides services, education, advises policy, etc. They have a political arm that lobbies, advocates and helps elect supportive candidates. This is nothing new.

    Yes, SUPERpac’s are offensive, but they are now the law. Obama opposssed the law, but his supporters just started a super pac.

    I suspect the reform community felt the need to develop a vehicle capable of competing with a DSEA and surrogate organizations that have invested 7-figures in DE politics in the last three years alone. Also, the DSEA has the highest % of members donating to its PAC than any union in the country.

    You guys act oh so pure & indignant. Physician, heal thyself.

    Oh, by the way, will you EVER use this blog to address the actual performance of the schools? I guess the lives of the kids are secondary.

  14. “Sad too see snewton929 undermine Joanne Johansen,who was recruited to run long before the unions did their endorsements. She had been active in education for years, and earned her support for good reasons, & not for your bullshit cynical reasons.”

    Oh goodness, Assid. That’s some ridiculousness right there, which calls into question your further points made to me. Steve has done nothing to undermind Joanne Johansen. He’s doing what any person would do for his or her preferred candidate: He’s sharing her ideas and advocating for her.

    Now back to Steve’s comments above and thanks for responding, Steve! I appreciate it. Your comments are in bold. My responses follow each.

    “I read it four times. Is that enough?”

    Please hit refresh if you read it again. I like the page views. Haven’t quite caught up to my DWA days, but I suppose I never will.

    “I didn’t raise this issue until Kenny started raising it in his videos, in his robo-calls, and in his literature. Maybe you should read that sentence again.

    If the candidate puts up “shadowy groups” and “transparency” in his campaign materials, then his own backing becomes fair game

    So I pointed it out: ed reformists, as you call them, are way back behind the funding of BOTH campaigns.

    Can’t get away from that Howard Weinberg connection to DSEA, Working Families PAC, and Vision 2015.”

    Kenny was quoting The News Journal’s article in that robo-call. Sounded appropriate. Until they come out with names, financials, and a real platform, then I’d say “shadowy” is about right.

    “Can’t get away from the fact that Weinberg is one of the people sitting at the table with Skip every time the Vision 2015 Implementation Teams sits down to plan, and that the Executive Director of DSEA has thereby publicly supported many of the things you rail about above.”

    I’ll defer to John Young on this one. Rather than being completely shut out, why not join these groups at the table and perhaps help drive the discussion? One that at least takes TEACHERS into consideration?

    “RCEA appears to have cleaned up its act in candidate selection, but in 2009 the RCEA President bragged about selecting “good” candidates before filing. Read that again: BEFORE filing.”

    These are two different beasts, Steve. Not knowing the full motivations or decision-making processes before 2009, I can’t really comment. But let me posit this: Perhaps RCEA went looking for “good” candidates in those elections because they were up against incumbants who’d been part of the problem plaguing the District for a decade? In a way, RCEA would have either had to accept more of the Cavanaughs, Linarduccis, Becnels, Vavallas, Mannings, etc… as opposed to seeking out someone who may bring much needed change to the District. I see nothing wrong here.

    In the past three elections, we have done nothing of the sort. In 2010, there was no candidate selection to my knowledge. One nominating district was Cathy Thompson versus Bill Doolittle. The other was Martin Wilson and some Tea Party Republican whose name I can’t remember and whose only platform was he would never vote to send our District to referendum. That was an interesting candidate interview.

    Last year we had Jack Buckley and Faith Newton, neither of whom we recruited. To my knowledge Jack Buckley wasn’t recruited in 2006. That was quite a crowded field that year!

    And this year. We did not recruit Kenny Rivera. Flat out.

    The dynamic has changed. This Board is much more functional and responsible than the Board of years’ past. So, yes, what Frederika did several years back is completely understandable to me. The Association NEEDED to recruit good candidates because our District couldn’t tolerate more of the same foolishness that had preceded.

    “Moreover, since a high percentage of Kenny’s campaign has been related to the fact that he is a teacher, and that the board needs a teacher’s voice, it is difficult to believe (although you effectively maintain it above) that his being a teacher and a DSEA member bore no weight whatsoever in your selection process.”

    I will say that while having a teacher and member show some interest in running for school board is an absolutely attractice quality, it didn’t bear any weight on our ability to conduct a thorough and fair interview of both candidates. Was there some innate bias toward Kenny that ultimately showed itself in our final endorsement vote? Perhaps, but I’d certainly like to think that Kenny earned that endorsement based solely on his performance in our interview. In fact, I’m 100% confident that’s how he earned it.

    “But Rodel or Voices or whomever did NOT recruit Joanne Johansen, even though they decided to support her. And given the thin difference between Joanne’s and Kenny’s positions, I have to believe that Voices decided to support Joanne for one primary reason: RCEA/DSEA wasn’t backing her.

    My best honest guess is that if you’d selected Joanne, they’d have backed Kenny.

    Yep, I do believe the process is that cynical.”

    You hit it out of the park with that one, Steve. I was saying the same thing to a friend a few days ago. Your thoughts equal mine. No one in our camp believes Joanne was recruited. At all. We feel her support by Voices is just as you say: a response to the union endorsement of Kenny.

    “I have never said all special interests were created equal, only that all special interests have operated in much the same way. And the hypocrisy I find is all the people who have either participated, kept silent, or personally profited from DSEA pushing over a million dollars into elections in this state over the past five years (a million dollars!!!) suddenly whining when somebody else gets into the act by following their playbook.

    And I would point out that–despite the cloak of a 501c4–local bloggers have pretty much laid bare Voices 4 DE Education. We know who the director is, we know who filed the organizational prospectus, we know which interest groups they represent, we know that their agenda is to push Vision 2015, Common Core Standards, and all the usual party line.

    The only thing you don’t know at this point about Voices is exactly who the donors are, but that’s not really true, either. Everybody actually pretty much knows what corporate and non-profit interests are involved–any “aha” moment would be . . . anti-climactic.

    So frankly, I think the transparency concerns are a bit of an act, a bit of campaign posturing that is wearing pretty thin.”

    Maybe I was a bit sweeping in my thesis here. But I still believe it’s wrong to attempt some equivalency here. Have a problem with DSEA funneling funds into school board races? OK, but I feel that’s a different argument to have. No one is questioning an organization’s right to funnel funds into these races. I would have no problem with Voices if they would just DISCLOSE.

    I’m glad Voices has been laid bare. This needed to happen. When people look to the union, they may not like what we do, but they know what we do. The same cannot be said for Voices.

  15. snewton929 says:

    Please hit refresh if you read it again. I like the page views. Haven’t quite caught up to my DWA days, but I suppose I never will.

    Uh, sorry. Didn’t. Doing . . . it . . . now . . . there . . . and one more for good . . . measure.

    By the way, if you go visit my place you will find that I made an agonizingly difficult admission about you as a blogger.

  16. Timothy Barchak says:

    It is interesting that some folks wanting to put organizations of working people (ie Unions) in the same catagory as corporations. Unions and their PACs give working women and men an opportunity to pool resources to protect their rights in the public arena. Corporations use their vast resources to advance their agenda of profit at all costs. It’s not same, either in values or resources expended.

  17. John Young says:

    Steve, easy on the ellipses. You might get a troll.

  18. snewton929 says:

    Nah. I’m using them on your blog. He’ll blame you.

    Just part of my wizardly plan.

  19. John Young says:

    and the comments on here.who’s who? 2 funny.

  20. Michael Bank says:

    If people are willing to support a candidate, they should be willing to reveal who they are. DSEA does this without reservation. What is Voices 4 Delaware’s hesitation? Just because the law gives you permission to stay hidden behind a generic name is this fair to the people you are trying to persuade? Imagine if candidates worked this way –

    “When you elect me and find out who I am, you will realize that the words I have been relaying to you through my anonymous e-mails come from my heart…”

    Please!!!

    Secrecy causes problems far more often than it alleviates them. My mind is made up for this election but in the future if you want my support then be comfortable enough in your choices to not hide behind a name.

  21. Arthur says:

    I’m not familiar with the teachers union proxy voting procedures but I am assuming every teacher receives a survey or questionnaire to vote for their favorite candidate in the pool DSEA chooses so its narrowed down to the majority vote?

  22. […] All special interests are not created equal […]

  23. […] It just so happens, that one (a surprise to her) is supported by the Rodel Vision 2015.  The other is supported by the DSEA….  […]

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