This post was sent to me by a teacher in Rhode Island who uses the nom de plume Horace Manic.
Mr. Manic writes:
The recent renewal of the contract of Deborah Gist, the Commissioner of Education in Rhode Island, brings to light some interesting political dynamics. Considering the recent, well-publicized conversion of Rhode Island Governor, Lincoln Chafee, to the Democratic party of President Obama, it is not a surprise that Gist was rehired – despite the pleas of teachers and student groups throughout the State. After all, Deborah Gist is the poster girl for the Broad Academy, one of the most well-financed and influential corporate reform organizations in the United States. Secretary of Education and Obama’s Chicago basketball-buddy Arne Duncan also came through the Broad Academy. Had the contract of Deborah Gist not been renewed, it would have been a symbolic rejection of Broad and the ideology of the reform organization – an ideology that has pervaded school districts throughout the United States through the placement of administrators in key posts.
One has to wonder what will be the political implications for Governor Chafee, who already lost his seat in the United States Senate when he was a Republican. Even though he was well-known in Washington as a moderate, if not liberal Republican (one of only a few Republican who voted against the invasion of Iraq), he lost handily to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006 in a wave of rejection of the Grand Old Party. Four years later, having declared himself an Independent, he won a hotly contested three-way race for the Rhode Island Governorship. He was pushed over the hump after President Obama endorsed Chafee, thereby putting nails in the coffin of the Democratic candidate, Frank Caprio. Chafee also was aided in his win by the strong endorsement of Rhode Island’s most powerful teacher’s union, the NEARI. By supporting Gist, Chafee seemingly has alienated the teachers of Rhode Island. Resentment toward the Democratic Party has been expressed by union members across the state due to the punitive actions put in place as a condition of Race to the Top funding. Obama’s ardent support of Duncan, both of whom who supported the firing of an entire school faculty in Central Falls, has left Rhode Island teachers feeling like jilted lovers.
If his actions as of late are an indication, Lincoln Chafee does not plan to run for reelection. He has estranged himself from an estimated forty percent of his supporters in rehiring Gist. With Sheldon Whitehouse serving in the Senate for another five years, Chafee, perhaps, has his sights set on a post that will return him to Washington as part of President Obama’s team. He is not wanting for money as his wife is an heiress of the Danforth family, one of the wealthiest in Rhode Island. A return to Washington seems a likely route for the son of a popular Senator. Whatever the political future of Lincoln Chafee, he was not much concerned with the vote of the teachers of Rhode Island when he made the decision to reappoint Gist. It has been suggested that Chafee’s decision was a courtesy and will set up the departure of Gist by her own volition. Time will tell.
While Chafee’s moves have been evocative, another dynamic is playing out behind the scenes that few political junkies have claimed to comprehend. Deborah Gist’s other supporter is Jeb Bush, brother and son of Presidents of the United States. As a lynchpin member of Chiefs for Change, a collection of state leaders most closely associated with Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and proponents of Bush’s views favoring high-stakes testing and privatization, Gist has supporters in Democratic and Republican camps. This brings into question the relationship between the Obama Administration and Jeb Bush. This collusion of leaders and parties seems to go beyond reaching across the aisle and political cooperation. After all, one day not far off, Jeb Bush will announce his candidacy for the Presidency.
How do Obama and Duncan view Chiefs for Change? Does Jeb Bush back the efforts of corporate form organizations like Democrats for Education Reform and individuals like Michael Bloomberg? How will the competition for votes, corporation funding, and union support affect the entangled relationships that corporate reformers like Deborah Gist have formed.
Recommendation: Don’t be near the fan in 2014.