March 7, 2013

Despite Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and Rupert Murdoch's big contributions, LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer was re-elected to the board, defeating their hope that Los Angeles would become the next big pathway to privatized education.

Not that they aren't already trying to spin it with the usual tired "both sides spent a lot of money" lines. Yes, both sides did, but one side actually had an interest in the outcome. Not so much for the other.

Or the spin that goes like this: The "real victory" for everyone is how the reformers stepped up and made themselves heard:

Yet the fact that Zimmer will now have to do more on the reform front in order to stay in office (and avoid a recall attempt), along with Garcia’s re-election victory as well as the run-off between the reform-minded Sanchez and Ratliff should hearten the school reform movement. Why? Because the real impact of this year’s election lies not so much with the results, but in what the effort means for the evolution of the school reform movement itself. The fact that so many reformers stepped up to finance and provide cover for reform-minded candidates is a clear sign that the movement is no longer just concerned with working the corridors of statehouses and gaining the backing of federal policymakers.

Um, no. That is the wrong lesson to take away from this election. It turns out that people raise their eyebrows when big money is tossed into a school board race where there is no obvious vested interest. Rupert Murdoch threw $250,000 into the race just days before the vote. Many others were backing Kate Anderson against Zimmer much earlier, and all of them had big money and an interest in their bottom line.

They spent that big money on a large-scale smear campaign, sending out mailers claiming Zimmer was going to cut the arts programs in schools and other lies in order to bolster their reform efforts. Parents saw through it. Via Diane Ravitch, one parent speaks out:

As a random mother of 2 teenagers, I awoke to this school board race when 4.5 million industrialist’s dollars poured into my little, local, school district, preempting attention from commonplace travesties such as sluggish fundraising and understaffed schools. In short order it became clear that this is an end-game for a massive, national power struggle in the dismantle-and-privatize-our-government game. Including an assault on the bulwark of labor unions, checks & balances and free thinking, this is a campaign of Herculean scale. And it’s been going on a long time; where have I been?? Without ever noticing it I was moved into a constituency camp termed “parent”, consigned to a group I never knew was conscripted, and ascribed a whole host of concerns and partisan viewpoints I never knew were mine.

Yes, this. Dropping all of that outside money into this election woke people up. I wish it had awakened even more, because there is another lesson to take away from this election: Real-time disclosure makes a difference. The reason people were able to wake up was because Los Angeles requires disclosure of campaign contributions, particularly when they're made this close to the actual election.

All of the posts I've written about national campaign funding over these few years have been my way of saying that we don't have to let Big Money defeat us if we only know who is giving it, because people will make a judgment about the sincerity of the candidate based upon what interests are backing that candidate.

Now there's proof: When people understand who is paying to defeat another candidate and their motives behind it, voters reject it.

There's a message for Congress there. If you want money to matter less in campaigns, force real time disclosure. Not disclosure 14-18 months after the fact, but real time, in-the-moment disclosure.

As far as the "school reform" movement itself goes, our anonymous Los Angeles mom has that pegged too:

However there is no offer to direct the massive funds of this recent election toward present day under-resourced institutions. While those campaign dollars could have significant effect on our school campuses directly, instead they are devoted to closing down what was. Rather than working with teachers and administrators and the other components that compose the scaffolding of our social fabric, the agenda of the School Reform Movement is to remove the incumbent and install a challenger instead. This election silhouettes how reform never was part of the agenda at all; revolution is.

Paid revolution, even. With puppets like Michelle Rhee and company leading the charge.

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