Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee had trouble recalling the names of South Carolina’s “key players” after a quick visit to the State House on Wednesday. But state lawmakers may want to take note of hers.
Rhee’s education advocacy group, StudentsFirst, is lobbying in 18 states, including South Carolina. The group says it backed 105 legislative candidates in 2012 – 91 Republicans and 14 Democrats – and 86 won.
An education reform firebrand, Rhee’s stardom grew with her propensity for doing things like, uh, firing a school principal on television and eating a bee that flew into her classroom (which freaked out her students, so the story goes). The latter experience inspired the title of a book about Rhee.
Now, Rhee, 43, is making a career – and landed a book deal – out of her reform proposals, including fighting what she describes as educators who draw paychecks without delivering much to students. But while Rhee claims to have transformed the D.C. school system, she is not without critics. (For instance, there were allegations linking improved student test scores in D.C. to widespread cheating. But those allegations were dismissed, she says.)
So what are Rhee and her advocacy group doing in South Carolina?
Meeting with teachers, now a part of the 25,000 members that StudentsFirst claims in the state, and meeting with education leaders, including S.C. schools Superintendent Mick Zais.
Rhee’s group supports bills in the S.C. Legislature aimed at strengthening the state’s charter-school law, helping parents mobilize to force reforms in failing schools and allowing students to enroll in neighboring school districts.
A top goal is backing the S.C. Department of Education’s plan to evaluate teachers based on how much students improve on test scores.
Educators make excuses for failing schools, Rhee said. But, she added, “The bottom line is: The system did not become the way that it is by accident. It operates exactly the way it was designed to operate, which is in a wholly unaccountable, dysfunctional manner.
“So when you seek to change that dynamic” – including going after “low-performing” teachers – “you’re gonna have a whole lot of unhappy people on your hands. When you stop that gravy train, somebody is going to be unhappy.”
Don’t ever forget Ford
State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, was pleased to have Boeing expand its jet-manufacturing plant in his North Charleston district last week, but he was angry over not knowing the plan to give the company $120 million in state incentives, negotiated by lawmakers and company officials.
For eight minutes during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, the Democrat railed at senators and lobbyists about how he should have been kept in the loop since he takes flak from constituents when Boeing’s development plans affect their neighborhoods.
“I decided to be a team player on this issue,” Ford said. “Here’s the problem with the team: You can’t have a team and disrespect players who happen to live in the area. ... You all have got to treat me 10 times better than what you have done now.”
Despite his experience as a community organizer, the six-term senator said he hasn’t raised issues about Boeing, especially about diversity, because of the aircraft maker’s economic impact on the region.
“(But) I can make things good for you or I can make things bad for you,” he said. “I could call a news conference. I could make those folks go wild in my district. I could talk to the Everett, Wash., Boeing folks. I could talk to the newspaper.
“Don’t disrespect me on these types of issues any more. That’s a warning,” he said .“Call my bluff (and) Boeing would catch all kinds of hell from this day forward – not just radical stuff in the street, but lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit because I have stopped people from filing lawsuits.”
Ford’s name was placed second on the list of sponsors on the incentives bill after his outburst. The Senate approved the incentives Thursday, which will be fast-tracked in the House starting Tuesday.
A lesson in forgiveness?
Former Gov. Mark Sanford was owning the narrative of mistakes and forgiveness in his campaign for South Carolina’s 1st District congressional seat for that hike he took to Appalachia, er, Argentina.
That is, he was owning it until the state Democratic Party accused Sanford last week of being a “colossal hypocrite” for criticizing his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, for taking campaign contributions from a union that complained to the National Labor Relations Board about Boeing coming to South Carolina. The two will face off in a special election next month.
The Dems, you see, said Sanford also had taken union contributions – except the contributions cited actually really went to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., not the Tea-Party-before-there-was-a-Tea-Party Sanford.
Sanford’s camp quickly announced a job opening for new researchers at the Democratic Party.
State Democratic chairman Dick Harpootlian said the mistake was “not a big deal.” OpenSecrets.org, the website where the Democrats got their research, blamed the error on improperly coded campaign contributions coming from the Federal Election Commission.
“And if anybody is willing to forgive a mistake,” Harpo said, “it ought to be Mark Sanford.”
Jenny Sanford: No plans to endorse
Meanwhile, Jenny Sanford told CQ Roll Call last week that she has no plans to endorse her ex-husband in his bid for Congress.
“I don’t have any thoughts on the race that I am currently interested in sharing with the public, and I have no plans to endorse. I remain completely focused on the four wonderful men in my life (her sons) and happily so.”
America and Rwanda: A comparison
Sen. Ford wasn’t the only legislator upset last week. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, wrote in a Facebook post Thursday.
“Expanded background checks and gun-show requirements would have had NO effect on stopping Aurora, Sandy Hook or Tucson. Nor would they have any effect on the violent gun-crime in Chicago,” Duncan wrote.
Duncan also warned that “evil consequences” can result from “national registries,” which some gun-control opponents fear a proposed U.S. Senate gun-control measure could help create.
Duncan offered an example of why he thinks “progressives” really want a national gun registry – saying the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda required that country’s people to register by tribe, meaning it knew where all the members of the rival Tutsi tribe lived so “killers could go door to door, slaughtering the Tutsis” in a 1994 genocidal mass slaughter.
• State Sen.Vincent Sheheen
, D-Kershaw, will have his first 2014 gubernatorial fundraiser Tuesday. House Minority LeaderTodd Rutherford
and state Rep.James Smith
, a pair of Richland County Democrats, will host the event at Smith’s Columbia law office.
• S.C. Republicans refer to Sheheen as “Vince” in news releases. So it should not be a surprise the state GOP has registered the website address “vincesheheen.com,” which directs web surfers to a site with releases criticizing the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
• U.S. Rep.Jim Clyburn
, D-Columbia, admits he has no shot of winning the U.S. Open. But the life-long golf enthusiast – handicap 13 – will “take consolation in having received the Lawmaker of the Year award” from a newly formed golf coalition, We Are Golf. Clyburn – a big proponent of golf, including The First Tee, a nonprofit junior golf program that teaches life skills through the sport – and U.S. Rep.Renee Ellmers
, R-N.C., are slated to be the first-ever recipients of the honor, to be awarded this week in Washington. “Receiving this award is a pretty good consolation prize for having to be in Washington while South Carolinians are enjoying the best golf of the year at the Masters and the Heritage,” Clyburn said in an email. “But I love the game of golf and consider this award a great honor because it is the only sport in which you have to call penalties on yourself.”
• Congrats to former state Rep.Joan Brady
, R-Richland, who last week received the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest honor. Gov.Nikki Haley
presented the award to Brady, recognized for sponsoring bills improving the state’s adoption process, limiting places where sex offenders can live and establishing eco-friendly building regulations for state buildings. Before being elected to the State House, Brady was on Richland County Council and mayor of Arcadia Lakes. Brady lost her re-election bid last year to DemocratBeth Bernstein