Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

June 23, 2016

How to Fight a Fascist and Win

Filed under: Elections,Fascism — millerlf @ 6:48 am

No revolution has been won or sustained by approaching all in power in the same way. Making use of contradictions within ruling circles and parties is a critical tactic that can determine whether people’s movements will advance or be set back. Following is an article suggesting such tactics in the face of a fascist threat.

Beating Donald Trump at the polls will be a necessary, but wholly insufficient step.

Gary Younge The Nation June 6, 2016

In the second round of France’s presidential elections in 2002, the left was faced with an unfamiliar challenge: What accessories to wear to the polls? The Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, had been knocked out in the first round. Now the choice was between the fascist National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the conservative sleaze magnet, Jacques Chirac. There were no good options: Chirac had once opined that French workers were being driven crazy by the “noise and smell” of immigrants. But there was certainly a catastrophic option: the election of Le Pen, who had branded people with AIDS “lepers” and trivialized the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail” in history.

So the left debated casting ballots for Chirac wearing gloves or surgical masks (until they were told doing so might nullify their ballots), and in the end, many went to vote with a clothespin on their nose. “When the house is on fire,” François Giacalone, a Communist Party local councillor, told The Guardian, “you don’t care too much if the water you put it out with is dirty.”

If Hillary Clinton wins, her agenda will make an eventual victory for someone like Donald Trump more likely, not less.

In 2016, Donald Trump’s clinching the Republican nomination in the same week that a right-wing extremist narrowly lost the presidential election in Austria raises a serious strategic challenge for the progressive left. We are rightly buoyed by the notion that a better world is possible and have tasked ourselves with creating it. But it is no less true that, at any given moment, a far worse world is possible too, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that we don’t let somebody else create it.

There are two crucial distinctions to be made here. The first is to distinguish between those political opponents who are merely bad, and those who represent an existential threat to basic democratic rights. The second is to draw a clear distinction between the electoral and the political. For example, Mitt Romney was bad: Had he been elected in 2012, terrible things would’ve happened, and it is a good thing that he was defeated. But Trump is of a different order entirely. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, unhinged, and untethered to any broader political infrastructure, he has endorsed his supporters’ physically attacking protestors. His election would represent a paradigmatic shift in what is possible for the American right. To call Trump a fascist may suggest more ideological coherence than his blather deserves. But he is certainly part of that extended family and, as such, represents the kind of threat that Romney (for example) did not.

The same is true of Le Pen and Norbert Hofer, the hard-right Austrian presidential candidate who called gun ownership “the natural consequence” of immigration. The fact that the Austrian presidency is primarily ceremonial is beside the point; had Hofer won, others in more substantial positions would have followed.

Since this kind of threat is of a different order, so should be the response. While fascists have learned to cloak their bigotry in less inflammatory rhetoric (one more reason why Trump is an outlier: This is a trick he has yet to learn, though I’m sure the Republicans have their best folks working on it), their blunt message must be met with a blunt response. They must be stopped. And if their route to power is through the ballot box, they must be stopped there.

The question of whether, in America for example, one should forgo the two main parties for a third that is not beholden to big money and will back the interests of the poor and marginalized is an important one. But the question in these instances is not whether we will be in a better or worse position to organize and fight back after the election, but whether there will be future elections at all—and if so, in what atmosphere of intimidation and coercion they might take place.

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Bottom of Form

In that case, one should vote for the largest immovable object in the path of the extreme right—whether that’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Jacques Chirac or Alexander Van der Bellen, the former Green Party spokesman who narrowly beat Hofer in Austria. But while defeating these forces at the polls is important, it is also insufficient. It does nothing to tackle the underlying causes for their popularity or address the grievances on which these parasites feed. Preventing them from gaining office is in no way commensurate with stemming their influence or power.

Take the most likely US presidential matchup: Clinton and Trump. Trump’s rise is rooted, to a significant extent, in the profound disenchantment of a section of the white working class created by the effects of neoliberal globalization in the wake of the most recent economic crash. Hillary’s staunchest advocate (her husband), whose legacy she shares on the stump (“We lifted people out of poverty” and “We created jobs”) bears considerable responsibility for the conditions that made Trump possible. Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act exacerbated the economic collapse, and his embrace of the North American Free Trade Agreement helped depress wages. Hillary Clinton backed these initiatives at the time, even if she has rowed back on some of them since. Setting her up in political opposition to Trump pits part of the cause against the symptom, with no suggestion of an antidote.

So even as one votes for Clinton—if she’s the nominee, then no one else is going to be able to stop Trump from taking power—one must prepare to organize against her. If she wins, her agenda will make an eventual victory for someone like Trump more likely, not less. More than a decade after Le Pen’s defeat, his daughter, who now heads the National Front, could yet reach the runoffs again. Hofer’s Freedom Party came in second place in the parliamentary elections in 1999 and was in a coalition government. Elections alone cannot defeat the populist right; we have to drain the swamp from which they gather their bait. When your house is ablaze, you grab whatever’s handy and put it out. But when the flames are quenched, the laborious task of fireproofing is in order.



The Gutting of the Voting Rights Act Could Decide the 2016 Election

Filed under: Elections,Fascism — millerlf @ 6:39 am

States with new voting restrictions have 70 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Ari Berman The Nation 6/21/2016

NC Voter ID rules are posted at the door of the voting station at the Alamance Fire Station on March 15, 2016, in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Andrew Krech / News & Record via AP)

On June 21, 1964, the civil-rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner were abducted in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The killings in Mississippi, where only 6.7 percent of African Americans were registered to vote in 1964, shocked the nation and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet opponents of the VRA never stopped fighting the law. Ronald Reagan, who called the VRA “humiliating to the South,” kicked off his general-election campaign for president in 1980 at the nearly all-white Neshoba County Fair, which had long been a hotbed of white supremacy. Reagan spoke nearly 16 years to the day after the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were discovered, and told the crowd, “I believe in states’ rights”—a phrase that had long been the rallying cry of Southern segregationists. (I tell this story in more detail in my book Give Us the Ballot.)

“For a presidential candidate to kick off his campaign there, that was heartbreaking,” said civil-rights leader John Lewis. “It was a direct slap in the face of the movement and all of the progress that we were trying to make.”

The legacy of Reagan’s opposition to the VRA still defines our politics today.

Paul Manafort, who directed Reagan’s Southern strategy in 1980, is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Trump lifted Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again,” for his campaign.

John Roberts, a young lawyer in the Reagan administration who wrote dozens of memos at the time criticizing the VRA, three decades later authored the majority opinion gutting the law, ruling that states with the longest histories of voting discrimination, like Mississippi, no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government.

The 52nd anniversary of the murders of Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner coincide with the third anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The full impact of that ruling will be felt in this year’s election, the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA. Seventeen states have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 presidential race, including more than half of those previously covered by Section 5 of the VRA, and representing 189 electoral votes, 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the presidency.

“Today, rather than using murder, unscrupulous people have found new disenfranchisement tactics to prevent whole communities from voting in order to retain political advantage,” writes David Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s younger brother.

North Carolina is the most striking example of the devastating impact of the Shelby County decision. A month after the ruling, the state passed a sweeping rewrite of its election laws, including requiring strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting, and eliminating same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

These restrictions were upheld in April by federal district court Judge Thomas Schroeder, a conservative George W. Bush-appointee. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear a new challenge to the case today.

Schroeder’s 485-page opinion ignored the many stories of voters who were turned away from the polls because of the new restrictions, like the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in 2014, and the new voter-ID law in the 2016 primary.

Dale Hicks, a 40-year-old former marine sergeant, was one of those voters. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently profiled him:

Dale Hicks, an African-American man who served in the Marine Corps for five years, including one year in Afghanistan, has been an active voter for close to 20 years. After being honorably discharged and transitioning to the IT field, he moved to Raleigh in June 2014. He had started hearing about the negative impacts of House Bill 589 around his community and decided to check his registration to ensure his address was up to date before voting in November. At his local precinct, he was informed that his registration information contained his old Jacksonville, N.C., address. Hicks assumed that, worst-case scenario, he’d just have to drive two hours to Jacksonville to vote. But he was told that because of the discrepancy in his address, he would not be able to vote at all because of the suspension of same-day registration. Stories like Hicks’ are likely all too common among veterans, who change addresses often because of the nature of their service. “You know, you finish serving your country and you come back and to be told no, you can’t, your voice will not be heard because your address says 9th street and you live on 7th street,” Hicks said. “It’s not right.”

In 2014, Democracy North Carolina documented 2,300 cases like Hicks’s of voters disenfranchised by the new restrictions. By comparison, there were only two cases of voter impersonation in the state from 2000 to 2012, out of 35 million votes cast.

Voting-rights advocates hope that the Fourth Circuit court, which temporarily reinstated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in September 2014 before being overruled by the Supreme Court, will be sympathetic to their case. During a hearing in September 2014, Judge James Wynn asked the state’s lawyers, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”

That’s a very good question.

UPDATE: The panel of judges on the Fourth Circuit appeared skeptical of North Carolina’s voting restrictions, according to initial press reports. “It looks pretty bad to me, in terms of purposeful discrimination,” Judge Henry Floyd told a lawyer for the state. A reversal of the district court’s opinion, at least on some counts, seems possible now.


February 12, 2016

Shephard Express Makes Compelling Argument for Supporting Chris Larson For Milwaukee County Executive

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 9:54 am

Primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 16
By Shepherd Express Staff
Feb. 9, 2016

Chris Larson should be county executive, and he would win the election if there were real campaign spending limits or public financing of elections. If the general election comes down to Chris Larson vs. Chris Abele, the incumbent, as the polls clearly predict, it will be Larson’s solid record of public service vs. a ton of Abele’s family’s money.

The Shepherd editorial board has watched Larson’s public service career over the past eight years, since he was first elected to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Two years later, in 2010, with strong support from his constituents in his supervisor district, he took on longtime state Sen. Jeffrey Plale in a primary and easily defeated him, and in 2013 Larson rose to be the Democratic leader in the state Senate.

A senator does not become his party’s leader without gaining the respect of his colleagues by showing strong leadership and having the ability to bring all sides together to move forward. Now, with the encouragement of a wide variety of civic organizations, small business owners, labor organizations and members of the general public in Milwaukee County, Larson dove into the race for county executive.

We respect Sen. Larson because we have seen him function in the various positions he has held, and we saw a dedicated, honest, very hard-working and very capable public servant who has consistently fought hard for the average working people of Milwaukee county in a very tough political climate.

In contrast, the current county executive has consistently cut backroom deals on behalf of private special interest groups and on behalf of his fellow millionaire cronies at the expense of the average Milwaukee County taxpayers. He has also worked hard to impress and win favor from his mentor, Gov. Scott Walker. A classic example was when Walker had proposed to fund the Milwaukee Bucks arena with bonds repaid by all the citizens of the state, since the entire state benefits from having a national sports franchise. Abele stepped into the negotiations and offered to have the Milwaukee County taxpayers cover $80 million of the arena’s costs. For the next 20 years, Milwaukee County property taxpayers will pay $4 million per year to retire the bonds.

Using Republican strategist Karl Rove’s approach of attacking someone on their strengths, Abele has tried to paint the county supervisors and anyone who opposed him as some kind of special interest group or “cronies” who are not listening to the people. Virtually every county supervisor, for example, got elected by working hard going door to door, listening to their neighbors and understanding their issues. Has Chris Abele ever knocked on your door? How does the son of a Boston billionaire have any idea what the issues and challenges are for an average Milwaukee County voter trying to make a living and raise a family in an ever-changing world economy? If he cared, he would be knocking on your door and listening.

Since taking office in 2011, Abele has consistently worked to strip our local democratic institutions of their power and consolidate power in his own office, shutting out the public from debates and decisions.

Because of Chris Abele’s private deals with Republican legislators, in the past five years Milwaukee County residents have been disenfranchised and lost the power of their voice in the following ways:

The Milwaukee County Board has been stripped of much of its power to provide checks and balances on the executive branch, an un-American weakening of the legislative branch, the branch of government that’s closest to the people.
The county executive has virtually unilateral power to sell off in private backroom deals many landmark county assets, including the zoo, the airport, the Milwaukee Public Museum and many parks.

There is no public vetting of or vote on major land deals, including the $1 giveaway of valuable Downtown Park East land worth millions of dollars to the majority Bucks owners.

A backroom deal among political insiders—including Abele—put county taxpayers on the hook for $80 million in costs for the Bucks arena for the next 20 years.

The county’s mental health services are overseen by an all-appointee board that is totally unaccountable to the public.

The county executive presides over his own school district, diminishing the Milwaukee Public Schools, and appointed a school commissioner who is unaccountable to voters.

The Abele era in Milwaukee County must end for the sake of our future.

That’s why we’re endorsing Chris Larson for Milwaukee County executive in the nonpartisan primary on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and in the general election on Tuesday, April 5.

This isn’t a decision made because we don’t like Chris Abele for whatever reason; we endorsed Abele for county executive in previous elections. Like many Democrats and progressives, we had believed Abele’s promises to be fair, open and transparent in office. Unfortunately, after being elected, Abele went back on almost all of his promises and has worked with Republican legislators to disenfranchise Milwaukee voters and rule the county like an emperor.
Larson said Abele’s power grabs spurred him to run for county executive this spring.

“If you had asked me six months ago if I was interested in running for county executive, I would have said no,” Larson told the Shepherd. “But I looked at the situation in my community and realized there was a problem that we had helped to create by helping to elect Chris Abele and allowing him unchecked power to run our county. He had gotten out of control and was asking for more and more power. After talking to my neighbors I realized there was a desire for an alternative vision of the county so that everyone has a voice. That’s why I’m running.”

Why We Support Chris Larson
State Sen. Chris Larson may not be as well-known as Abele, but we think he is more in touch with real Milwaukeeans than is Abele, the son of a Boston billionaire who has already put $1.75 million of his own money into his campaign for re-election plus well over another $1 million to nonprofit organizations to essentially buy their support.
“I know Chris Abele has a ton of money but I know that we have the power of the people,” Larson said. “I want to restore balance at the county so that everyone has a voice. Everyone should have a voice—not just the rich.”
Chris Larson is a lifelong Milwaukeean who is married to Jessica Brumm-Larson, an assistant psychology professor. They’re raising their two young children in Bay View.

Larson was born in Greenfield, attended Thomas More High School and graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in finance. After managing a sporting goods store, he was elected in 2008 to the Milwaukee County Board to represent Bay View. His primary focus was protecting parks and transit, helping working families and saving the Hoan Bridge.
While on the county board, Larson helped to launch the successful county-wide referendum to create a dedicated funding source for transit, parks and other county services so that they could be taken off the county tax levy and supported by a half-cent sales tax, a significant portion of which would be paid by non-Milwaukee County residents. It wasn’t an easy sell, but 52% of county voters approved the referendum in 2008. Unfortunately, the voters’ voice was stifled in Madison as the state government refused to allow the county to find a much-needed solution to our county’s financial problems.

In 2010, Larson ran for state Senate, taking on conservative Democratic Sen. Jeff Plale, who often voted with Republicans to destroy progressive legislation.

Many thought that Larson was crazy for taking on a well-financed and powerful Democrat, but he defeated Plale in the 2010 Democratic primary and won the general election that fall. Plale then took a job in the Walker administration, showing just where his sympathies lay.

In the state Senate, Larson has pushed back on Gov. Scott Walker and tea party Republicans’ agenda for the state. Of course, Democrats are in the minority, but Larson has championed public schools, the environment, women’s reproductive freedom, health care reform and progressive taxation that benefits working families, not the rich.
We’re seeing history repeat as Larson is taking on Abele, a conservative Democrat who works with tea party Republicans to benefit the wealthy and well-connected.

“For us, it’s about making sure that we have a community voice in the county’s highest office,” Larson said.

The Bucks Deal

Although both Larson and Abele are Democrats, they are almost polar opposites on the issues facing Milwaukee County, from the Bucks arena financing deal to who should run our schools.
Take, for example, the Bucks deal. Originally, Walker wanted the state to bond $220 million for the Bucks arena and Milwaukee County taxpayers didn’t need to pay anything extra for it. But when Abele got into the negotiating room in private, he put the county taxpayers on the hook for $80 million over 20 years. To cover that $80 million, Abele wanted to go after delinquent property taxpayers in the suburbs, even though he never consulted the independently elected county comptroller to find out if the county had enough bad debt to cover the $80 million. (It doesn’t in the long run.)

“When I speak to people in the community, I’m hearing that people are upset because Abele wasn’t listening to the public,” Larson said.

Even worse, Abele threw in nine acres of Park East land for $1, without putting it up for a vote before the county board.

“He sold that land for $1 without a public bid but the taxpayers are going to have to pick up the tab for the underlying cost to clean up the land so that it’s ready for development, which is contrary to what Abele claimed,” Larson said. “So they got it for $1 and then some. Abele gave it away at a loss. This is a clear example of Abele’s poor negotiating skills.”

Since there weren’t enough votes in the Legislature to pass the deal, Democratic lawmakers were brought in at the last minute to try to make it better. Larson was one of those lawmakers. Although the county is still forced to pay the $80 million thanks to Abele, Larson made sure that Abele’s “bad debt” scheme was removed and added a fee to tickets so that those attending the arena would have to defray some of the costs.

In a side agreement, Larson made sure that the jobs to be created are living wage jobs, employ county residents and assured employees the right to unionize. Abele has tried to take credit for this agreement but he wasn’t part of it at all.

“I want to make sure that Milwaukeeans benefit from this deal,” Larson said.

On the Issues
The two candidates are also on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding open government, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) takeover and the living wage.

“Abele has continued to gather so much power for himself and he has shut out the public and he refuses to explain why he’s doing things in our community,” Larson said. “And it’s getting worse. There are more plans in the Legislature for him to take more power, especially over the county budget.”

If elected, Larson would lobby the Legislature to roll back these new powers but if that doesn’t happen, he said he wouldn’t use them as county executive.

“We will have checks and balances,” Larson said. “No one should have that much power. I will ask the Legislature to call a special session to restore American-style checks and balances to Milwaukee County government.”
Taking power from the board: Abele has worked with tea party Republicans (who accept his political donations) to gut representative government in Milwaukee. Power was taken away from the Milwaukee County board to provide real oversight of the executive branch while more power was given to Abele.

“The public’s opinion doesn’t matter to him,” Larson said.

An unaccountable Mental Health Board: Abele supported legislation in 2014 to create an unelected Mental Health Board, which now oversees the $188 million budget of the county’s Behavioral Health Division. The appointed board rarely takes testimony from the public—it even had a union rep arrested for speaking peacefully during a recent board meeting about dangers posed by some of the psychiatric hospital’s patients—and is totally unaccountable to Milwaukee voters. That means that Milwaukee County residents have no say in important issues such as the potential privatization of the psychiatric hospital, placement of mentally ill sex offenders in neighborhoods, out-patient care in community settings and the use of federal, state and local tax dollars. And Milwaukeeans can’t vote anyone off the board, since the board members are appointed.

“Every week I hear from families who are affected by these changes but they can’t be heard,” Larson said.
MPS takeover: Abele agreed to a tea party Republican scheme to take over struggling Milwaukee Public Schools and preside over his own school district, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. Abele, who lacks a college degree, has appointed a commissioner who has the power to seize public schools and property, fire teachers and give taxpayer-funded contracts to unaccountable charter and voucher school operators.

In public, Abele says he has no plans to take over schools, but in private state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) was caught on tape promising that Abele would get going on “our initiative” after he wins re-election. Since this was inserted into the state budget, Milwaukee voters had no say on this new school district.

“This legislation was designed to hurt the public schools,” Larson said.

Living wage: Abele vetoed a living wage resolution that would ensure county workers and those who work for county contractors are paid a living wage, currently $11.66 an hour. Supervisors overrode his veto 12-6. In contrast, Larson proposed a bill raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and ties the minimum wage to the inflation index, and he’s consistently advocated for a living wage for workers, arguing that higher wages keep workers out of poverty, ease the burden on the state’s safety net and stimulate the local economy.

Land sales: Abele got his allied Republicans to slip into the budget a last-minute amendment that would have given him unchecked power to sell off county land and assets, as well as a “super veto” would have given him total authority over county government. The Legislature whittled back Abele’s request and gave him near-unilateral power to sell off land not zoned as park land, including the zoo, the airport and the Milwaukee County Museum.

“I will not sell the airport, the zoo, the museum or the parks, period,” Larson promised.

Last November, county supervisors requested a study on non-park land from the Parks Department, which revealed two weeks ago that that 43 county parks lost their protection from privatization thanks to Abele’s power grab. Abele only needs the signature of one other person to sell off these assets that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents built and cherished. Abele has said he wouldn’t sell off parks, but his administration had tried to lease Kulwicki Park to Greenfield and also sell O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life in a lowball no-bid contract, showing that he is open to unraveling the county’s “emerald necklace.” He has also made dozens of promises in his first campaign and did virtually the exact opposite once he got elected.

Following that revelation, Larson and state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) introduced a bill in the state Legislature, the County Parkland and Heritage Protection Act, which would require a county board vote on any land sale.

“I was born here and I was raised here and I have lived here my whole life,” Larson said. “I ran and biked on our Oak Leaf Trail. I spent my summers in Greenfield Park and McCarty Park. I ran cross-country in Greene Park. And this is where I go with my kids. I have a small house so when we need to escape we go to our community parks and let them unwind. I want to make sure that the parks remain for them. It’s part of our community. It’s part of who we are.”
Larson said he was offended that Abele would seek so much power to sell off county land and assets in private but hasn’t explained why he wanted this power.

“He asked for this authority and never explained why and it could put our heritage at risk,” Larson said. “And he continues to ask for more power. I realize this is our community and if we don’t stand up to a bully now we could lose all of that and it would take generations to fix it.”

January 20, 2016


Filed under: Corporate Domination,Elections — millerlf @ 10:56 am

Join Gerry Broderick, Jonathan Brostoff and Larry Miller in support of
Chris Larson for County Executive

at the Art Bar (722 E. Burleigh St.)

On Wednesday January 27th from 6-9 PM.

Help us mobilize and raise funds for a progressive Milwaukee County.

August 27, 2014

We Can Do This: Burke 49%, Walker 47%

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 1:53 pm

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) remains locked a tight re-election campaign, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The Marquette Law School poll of those likeliest to vote this fall shows Democratic nominee Mary Burke leading Walker 49 percent to 47 percent, an advantage that is within the survey’s margin of error.

The poll affirms what strategists in both parties have anticipated for months: this is going to be a competitive fall campaign. In the July survey, Walker and Burke were running about even.

A former executive at the bicycle company Trek and an ex-state commerce secretary, Burke is running a campaign focused on Walker’s record on jobs and the economy. Walker has been tying Burke to unpopular former governor Jim Doyle (D), under whom she served as commerce secretary.

The Marquette poll of 609 likely voters was conducted from Aug. 21-24. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

August 6, 2014

Shepherd Express: Marina Dimitrijevic for Assembly District 19

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 8:23 am

Shepherd Express Endorsements: Vote Tuesday, Aug. 12
By Shepherd Express Staff

Marina Dimitrijevic for Assembly District 19

State Rep. Jon Richards’ decision not to seek re-election to the state Assembly so that he can run for attorney general has opened up a rare opportunity for Milwaukee Democrats. Assembly District 19 is home to some of the best assets that Milwaukee has to offer. It encompasses the lakeshore neighborhoods of Bay View, the Third Ward, parts of Downtown and the East Side and the UW-Milwaukee campus. The district’s constituents demand more of their state representative than just a solid Democratic vote. They want a strong, progressive leader.

The primary campaign for this vacant seat has attracted four highly qualified Democrats: District Director for state Sen. Larson, Jonathan Brostoff; former Assistant District Attorney Dan Adams; Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic; and labor attorney Sara Geenen. All of these candidates have the ability to fill the shoes of Richards and are very passionate about serving Milwaukee in the Assembly.

Because of the importance of this race to Shepherd readers and the composition of the Milwaukee delegation going forward, we expanded our endorsement panel to include a cross-section of 25 community leaders who live and work in the district. We asked the committee members to provide their first, second and third choices and any comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. We weighted the three rankings and tallied these weighted numbers and carefully considered the comments. One candidate came out the very clear winner and that was Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic.

What clearly set Dimitrijevic apart from the others was the fact that she has been tested in these trying political times, delivering progressive legislation on the county board despite obstacles from the former and current county executives. She has served in and actually led a legislative body, the county board, so she will be ready to serve on Day #1.

Dimitrijevic is the author of the county’s Greenprint energy-efficiency plan, which won unanimous approval from the board and was signed by then-County Executive Scott Walker, and she’s ushered through domestic partnership benefits, the new living wage ordinance, nondiscrimination policies, a deal between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee County War Memorial, and a highly effective job-training initiative, among other things. She’s stood her ground with both Walker and County Executive Chris Abele, who most Milwaukee County Board observers feel bears the overwhelming share of the responsibility for the current fractured state of county affairs. While the other candidates point to what they’d like to do in office, Dimitrijevic can point to what she’s already done.

In addition to these accomplishments, Dimitrijevic’s time as board chair has familiarized her with all corners of the county, the need to create jobs in Milwaukee, the vast safety net needs of our community, and the crisis caused by the state’s lack of investment in transit, public education, and cultural assets and amenities.

Milwaukee has rarely seen a candidate as highly qualified and experienced as Dimitrijevic in their first run for the Legislature.

The Shepherd heartily endorses Marina Dimitrijevic for Assembly District 19.We encourage Shepherd readers to head to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 12, for the partisan primaries. Candidates from both major parties are on the ballot that day so that voters can determine who will be on the general election ballot in November for their party of choice.
The Shepherd has examined some of the most competitive races in the Democratic primary and has endorsed who we believe to be the most qualified candidates.

We urge you to head to the polls on Aug. 12 or, if it’s more convenient for you, to cast an in-person early absentee ballot through 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 8. You do not need a photo ID to vote. Remember: Voters can only cast a ballot in either the Republican primary or the Democratic primary. You cannot pick and choose your candidates from both parties on the same ballot.

For more information about your voter registration status, polling place or the candidates on the ballot, go to the Government Accountability Board’s website at Milwaukee voters can get information at the city’s election commission website at or by calling 414-286-3491.

Mary Burke for Governor

This is a very easy endorsement to make. We heartily support Mary Burke for the Democratic nomination for governor. As we have gotten to know Burke over the past year we have become more impressed with her ability to advocate for Wisconsinites who need help in our struggling economy. She is the real thing. Contrary to the false message promoted by the Republicans, she is not the little rich girl. She was on her way to college when her father started Trek and it was many years later when it was a successful business. She got where she has by being smart and working very, very hard.
Mary Burke has deep roots in Wisconsin. Her father founded Trek Bicycle in Waterloo in 1976 and after earning her degrees and working on the East Coast, she decided to come back home to Wisconsin and join him at Trek. She helped to expand Trek’s business in Europe, building markets for Trek bikes and, later, served as Gov. Jim Doyle’s Commerce secretary, when unemployment was at an enviable 4.8%. Since leaving that position, Burke has devoted herself to public service and philanthropy with a special focus on helping disadvantaged students.
Burke’s experience in the private and public sector makes her a formidable opponent to Gov. Scott Walker. Her plan to revive the state economy through a focus on industry clusters would be a welcome change from Walker’s brand of public disinvestment and crony capitalism. Burke is also a staunch supporter of public schools, affordable health care, full women’s rights, the environment, workers, students, and residents of communities that had been hit hard by the loss of family-supporting jobs.
Burke is such a tough opponent that Walker and his special-interest allies are flooding the airwaves with negative attacks on her record and Trek Bicycle’s business. But don’t believe Walker’s smears. Mary Burke is a smart businesswoman, an able public servant and a strong Democrat. We urge Shepherd readers to support her in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary and to vote for her again in the November general election.

John Lehman for Lieutenant Governor

We fully support state Sen. John Lehman to be Mary Burke’s running mate on the Democratic ticket. Lehman, a former public school teacher, has represented Racine in the state Legislature since 1996, although he had been knocked out—briefly—during the 2010 tea party wave. In 2012, he won a hard-fought fight and ousted the district’s conservative Republican senator in the recalls. The GOP legislators then redrew and gerrymandered that district to push Lehman out of office in 2014 and return it to Republican control.
Lehman has held positions of leadership in the Legislature and he thoroughly understands the pressing issues we will face in the coming years. We trust him with the state budget, job-creation efforts, environmental protection and education funding. We think that Mary Burke and John Lehman would make a formidable ticket in November, a high-quality combination of business experience and public service. Please vote for John Lehman for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Jon Richards for State Attorney General

There are three highly qualified candidates vying to become the Democratic nominee for state attorney general. All of them would be able to serve the state of Wisconsin with distinction. All of them would be an improvement over the current attorney general, Republican J.B. Van Hollen. But Democrats can only vote for one candidate on Aug. 12 so the Shepherd is endorsing Jon Richards as the best Democratic candidate for state attorney general.
Richards, a longtime Assembly member representing Milwaukee, is well known to Shepherd readers because of his strong advocacy for women’s health, BadgerCare, marriage equality and the well-being of Lake Michigan, among other issues. He is the author of a bill that would require universal background checks on all gun purchases which, unfortunately, doesn’t have the backing of Republicans in the state Legislature, who are more concerned about pleasing the National Rifle Association than reducing gun violence in our neighborhoods.
Richards is thoroughly knowledgeable about the big issues facing Wisconsin, our criminal justice system and supportive agencies that keep our communities safe and healthy. He would be a thoughtful attorney general who will lead the Department of Justice with integrity.
In addition, Richards has run a vigorous campaign in all corners of the state. That sort of professionalism and dedication bodes well for the general election race after the Aug. 12 primary. The Republican nominee, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, would be an attorney general in the vein of conservative J.B. Van Hollen. Schimel will have the backing of the Republican Party and the tea party crowd, out-of-state, wealthy benefactors like the Koch brothers who support the disastrous GOP agenda, and the right-wing talk radio guys like Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling. Richards will need all of the support he can muster to take on Schimel and his allies and win in November. But if his campaign for the Democratic nomination is any indication, Richards has what it takes to run a successful statewide campaign and become the next state attorney general. Vote for Jon Richards on Aug. 12.

Chris Moews for Milwaukee County Sheriff

Will Democrats turn up at the polls on Aug. 12 to vote for the true law enforcement leader in the Democratic primary?
That’s the question being asked around the county and it’s why we are urging Shepherd readers to vote for Chris Moews for Milwaukee County sheriff on Aug. 12.
Moews is the candidate with the character and skills needed to restore integrity to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. Moews is a Milwaukee Police lieutenant who thoroughly understands the negative impact the current sheriff’s actions have had on county residents’ safety and well-being and will work cooperatively with others in the city and suburbs to turn things around. Moews promises to respect the budgetary realities of Milwaukee County and not run up costs at taxpayer expense. And, finally, Moews would not draw negative attention to the Sheriff’s Office or Milwaukee County and would support our hard-working law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.
Moews is running against longtime incumbent Sheriff David Clarke in the Democratic primary. We all know that Clarke is not a Democrat in word or deed but he has cynically calculated that the only way he can win in Milwaukee County is by running as one in the Democratic primary. To win, he relies on right-wing radio squawkers to inflame their listeners so that they will cross party lines to vote for Clarke. It’s been effective thus far, but it isn’t honest.
This year, Clarke has the support of right-wing radio, along with the far-right gun-rights organizations National Rifle Association (NRA) and Wisconsin Carry Inc.
But Clarke doesn’t have the support of many in the mainstream, for good reason.
The Shepherd and others in the mainstream could set aside Clarke’s partisan double-dealing if he was a good sheriff, but we can’t ignore his disastrous record in office. Clarke refuses to work with other community leaders or live within his budget. He’s currently on track to be $4.6 million over budget this year alone, which is an unacceptable slap in the face to county taxpayers. Clarke sows doubt in the ability of law enforcement to protect the community by advocating for a sort of Wild West-style vigilantism. He shut down the vital gun, gang and drug units and the witness protection program, which leaves our law enforcement agencies and neighborhoods without an umbrella organization to coordinate activities and protect residents. He’s detained immigrants so that they can be deported, even when he wasn’t required to do so and as a result has potentially violated their constitutional rights. And he engages in childish stunts, such as accusing County Executive Chris Abele of having “penis envy” and posting deputies (working on overtime) at the courthouse entrances to watch others conduct security checks.
Clarke’s time in office has to end now.
Chris Moews has the Shepherd’s full support in the Democratic primary. We ask our readers to make him the next Milwaukee County sheriff on Aug. 12.

Dave Leeper for State Treasurer

Although this race has gotten little attention, the winning candidate does have the power to make some changes in our economy. That’s why the Shepherd is endorsing Dave Leeper for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer.
Dave Leeper may not be a household name but he is someone worth getting to know. He comes from a long line of public servants and good progressives. He is the son of former state Rep. Midge Miller, a legendary activist on behalf of women and peace issues, and is the brother of state Sen. Mark Miller of Monona, former minority leader of the state Senate. Leeper is a former Green County district attorney with a strong sense of community service. He’s helped to set up a safe home for victims of domestic violence, worked to address child abuse, and served as a peacemaker and human rights advocate in Mozambique and Ukraine.
Leeper would bring these community-first values to the office of the state treasurer. He wants to create a Wisconsin State Bank, akin to the one in North Dakota, to keep money in the state. His proposal calls for returning any surplus from the state bank to the state and local governments to reduce taxes.
We like Dave Leeper’s ideas to use this office for the public good and urge Shepherd readers to learn more about him and his campaign before voting for him on Tuesday, Aug. 12, in the Democratic primary for state treasurer.

David Bowen for Assembly District 10

We are enthusiastically supporting David Bowen for Assembly District 10, which encompasses the North Side, Shorewood and parts of Glendale. This is a hotly contested open seat that had been represented with great care by Sandy Pasch.
Bowen has proved during his short time on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors that he has what it takes to build a winning coalition and get progressive legislation passed.
Bowen’s signature achievement is the county’s new living wage ordinance. This wasn’t easy but it was worth the effort. Despite obstacles from the county executive and conservative members of the board—and the usual hand-wringing from the business community—Bowen succeeded and his measure will ensure that employees of county contractors will be paid a living wage. That wasn’t easy to do in anti-worker era, and it shows that Bowen has the political skills and will to make life better for those who are struggling in this tough economy.
Bowen has been endorsed by Sandy Pasch, and we agree with her choice. We have no doubt that he will be able to build on his success on the county board to be a strong advocate for his constituents while serving in the Assembly.
We urge Democrats in Assembly District 10 to vote for David Bowen on Aug. 12.

Gwen Moore for U.S. Congressional District 4

We are recommending that Shepherd readers support Gwen Moore in the Democratic primary on Aug. 12. Moore is consistently on the side of her constituents in her voting and advocacy because she is thoroughly familiar with the reality of the lives of working parents and those on the margins. She is a strong supporter of Milwaukee’s struggling residents who rely on the safety net, no easy feat when GOP budget-cutters like Paul Ryan are calling the shots. Moore has also fought for consumer protections, veterans, public education and the rights of minorities, voters, women and students. Her influence has increased in Congress and we urge her to use that influence as she continues to fight on behalf of Milwaukee.

Leon Young for Assembly District 16

We are supporting state Rep. Leon Young in his bid for re-election to the state Assembly. Young has been a solid supporter of Democratic policies, especially the value of public education. We hope that he carries on the tradition of Lloyd Barbee, who had once held this seat and was one of the Assembly’s most passionate advocates for public education. We encourage Young to rise to the challenge to further Barbee’s legacy by being a leading light in the state Assembly on all matters of importance to Milwaukee, from public school funding to job creation, health care, civil rights and the environment.

JoCasta Zamarripa for Assembly District 8

We are calling on Shepherd-reading Democrats on the Near South Side to return JoCasta Zamarripa to the state Assembly. Zamarripa has been a very responsive representative and also a vocal advocate for immigrants, students and the LGBT community while in office and we believe that she well represents her constituents. Zamarripa deserves another term in office.

Rob Zerban for U.S. Congress District 1

Our endorsement for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress District 1 once again goes to Kenosha entrepreneur Rob Zerban, who stepped up and took on Rep. Paul Ryan in 2012, when Ryan also ran his high-profile and expensive campaign for vice president. The district encompasses the southern portion of Wisconsin, including Racine, Kenosha and Janesville.
We admire Zerban’s ability to learn from past experiences and become a stronger candidate. Zerban’s personal story is compelling. Unlike Ryan, Zerban did not grow up in wealth. In fact, he and his family utilized the public safety net that Ryan is trying to cut. Thanks to that assistance early in life, Zerban was able to attend the Culinary Institute of America and return to Wisconsin to launch two companies in the food industry. He has sold both and now is devoting his life to public service.
Zerban has solid progressive values and he is able to make the case for higher wages, universal health care, immigration reform and the safety net from a businessperson’s perspective. His background would be an asset in Congress and we have no doubt that he would be more devoted to his constituents’ needs than Ryan has been.
While Zerban’s Democratic challenger, filmmaker Amar Kaleka, is a high-quality progressive candidate, we prefer Zerban this year due to his experience and encourage Kaleka to continue to seek public office. We think that this is Rob Zerban’s year.

David Cullen for Milwaukee County Treasurer

We are endorsing David Cullen for Milwaukee County treasurer. Cullen has served his constituents well as a Milwaukee County supervisor and, previously, as a member of the state Assembly. He also served as president of the Milwaukee School Board from 1987-1990.
This is a primary for a special election to a vacant position, since the current County treasurer, Dan Diliberti, decided to retire after serving 10 years as treasurer.
Cullen, an attorney, joined the board just before Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele worked with conservative Republican legislators to gut the board’s power and enhance his own. Despite the board’s diminished power, Cullen was able to use his position as co-chair of the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee to provide a check on the county executive. Cullen has pushed back on Abele’s “Vanna White” veto, which allows him to totally rewrite portions of the budget to his advantage, as well as Abele’s questionable contracts for janitorial and transit services and a highly paid consultant. In addition, Cullen trimmed the salaries of some of Abele’s top aides so that they would be more in line with their peers.
We think that David Cullen would serve the county well as treasurer. Support him on Aug. 12 in the Democratic primary.

July 12, 2014

Wisconsin Gazette Endorses Marina Dimitrijevic for 19th Assembly District

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 2:51 pm

Amid stront field, Marina Dimitrijevic, is best choice to represent Milwaukee’s 19th Assembly District
July 10 Wisconsin

On June 6, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced to a cheering crowd at PrideFest that he was keeping the courthouse open that evening for same-sex couples to get married. Abele didn’t want lesbian and gay couples who’d been waiting for years to have to wait any longer after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban earlier that day.
Among the first to arrive at the courthouse to lend a helping hand was Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She stationed herself at the doors leading to the clerk’s office to hand out numbers for couples seeking a position in the growing line and to answer questions about required documentation and so on.
It was not surprising to find Dimitrijevic at the forefront of the activity that night. LGBT equality is one of the issues she’s championed in the decade since she became the youngest woman elected to public office in Milwaukee. Her long list of accomplishments includes spearheading the effort to extend domestic partner benefits for county workers.
Now Dimitrijevic is a candidate in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary to choose a successor for state Rep. Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District. Richards is stepping down to run for attorney general.
The district includes the East Side, downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View and parts of Riverwest, making it not only one of the state’s most heavily progressive districts but also one that has among the highest concentrations of LGBT constituents.
Dimitrijevic faces three other challengers in the primary — each of them promising in his or her own way. All three have compelling narratives to support their candidacies, and all three hold the progressive, pro-equality values supported by a majority of the district’s residents.
But Dimitrijevic is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, and experience counts more than ever for progressives in Madison. The tea party majority rules the Assembly with an iron fist, and progressives need representatives who know the system well enough to recognize and exploit opportunities to work it.
Moreover, Dimitrijevic has a proven track record of advocating for the issues of most concern to progressives, including environmental sustainability, public transportation, public education and rights for workers and immigrants (Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish). She’s the strongest candidate to replace Richards. We endorse her and expect a great future for her as a progressive leader.
Dimitrijevic’s other endorsements come from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Clean Wisconsin Action and more. To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to
The other candidates in the race also have drawn prominent endorsements and have promising futures. They’re worth getting to know (in alphabetical order):
Dan Adams, 31, a former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, is the candidate backed by Abele. Adams is unique in that he expresses a willingness to work with Republicans to ensure that Milwaukee gets its fair share of revenue and attention from Madison. He stresses pragmatism over knee-jerk partisanship.
Adams believes Milwaukee has great potential for developing a knowledge-based economy, and he says he’d work on bringing capital together with the city’s educational institutions to make that happen.
Philosophically, Adams casts himself politically in Abele’s mold: “We have the same outlook on public service — it’s not about the servant. It’s really about carrying the water for the community and not just the very vocal or the very powerful,” Adams says.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Adams signs have become increasingly visible in the district.
For more, go to
Jonathan Brostoff, 30, is also running a strong campaign. He took leave from his current position as district director for Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson in order to run for the Assembly. In that position, as well as through involvement in managing other campaigns, Brostoff likely knows Wisconsin politics better than any other candidate except Dimitrijevic.
Together with Larson, Brostoff co-founded DemTEAM, which has trained more than 110 progressive Milwaukeeans interested in elected office. Among DemTeam’s success stories are current state Reps. Daniel Reimer, Nikiya Harris and Mandela Barnes.
Brostoff has run a robust campaign that has focused increasingly on education. Like the other candidates in this race, Brostoff says he’ll fight to get better resources for Milwaukee’s public school system. He sees the growing voucher movement as part of the problem.
“I strongly believe that we need to not only not expand vouchers but sunset them here and now,” Brostoff says. “The experiment has played out and it failed. The heart of it is to siphon off public resources into private hands.”
Brostoff, who has a gay older brother, is an ardent equality supporter. The first of many volunteer positions he’s held was with Pathfinders, which provides services to homeless youth. Brostoff began volunteering with the agency at age 14. Among Pathfinders’ clients are relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian youth who are kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.
Brostoff also has volunteered for many other nonprofits. He says running for office is taking his commitment to his community to the next level. He cites retiring state Rep. Sandy Pasch as the type of leader he hopes to become, and she has endorsed him.
For more, go to
Sara Geenen, 32, has run the most low-key campaign of the four contenders, primarily because she’s the mother of a 4-year-old and a toddler, as well as a labor union attorney. But she says being a working mother gives her a unique perspective to take with her to Madison.
“It’s important to have people from every walk of life representing the state, because the state has people from every walk of life,” she says.
Strongly pro-union, Geenan grew up in a union family “with headstrong beliefs in progressive values,” she says. Her endorsements include chapters of the United Steel Workers, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists.
Growing income inequality spurred Geenan to run for office, she says, and her campaign has focused on “jobs, education and investing in community.” Geenan sees herself as an advocate for the working poor, people who are unable to move out of poverty because all the rules are stacked against them. As examples, she offers the case of a woman three months’ pregnant who’s already distressed about finding day care for her child or the family forced to live in substandard housing because of their credit score, even though they can afford better housing.
Like the others in the race, Geenan is a deeply committed supporter of equality, quality public schools and the creation of family-supporting jobs.
“I think it’s important that you start to work incrementally to make change,” Geenan says. “It’s important to keep advocating.”
For more, visit
Primary day is Aug. 12.

January 3, 2013

Mayoral Control Stopped in Bridgeport Connecticut

Filed under: Elections,Mayoral Control — millerlf @ 10:39 am

“Elections shouldn’t exist”: The new war on school boards

The new education “reform” fight is over who chooses school boards: the mayor or the people. One city fought back

By Josh Eidelson Salon Monday, Dec 31, 2012

On Election Day 2012, as voters around the country chose between two presidential candidates who both touted policies that would make it easier to fire teachers, voters in Bridgeport, Conn., rebuffed a referendum backed by Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg and the local Democratic Party. By a seven-point margin, Bridgeport rejected city charter changes that would have ended school board elections. It’s the latest round in Bridgeport’s multi-year battle over a below-the-radar front in America’s reform wars: Who should pick school board members – mayors or voters?

“Nobody thinks that a bunch of hedge fund managers from Greenwich are going to make their schools any better,” said Lindsay Farrell, the executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, one of the groups that spearheaded the opposition effort. “And the right to vote has been a hard-fought right. So people were reluctant to give it up and didn’t trust who they were being asked to give it up to.”

2012 has been a tough year for critics of the bipartisan education reform consensus. In the statehouses, legislators passed bills narrowing teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Big-city mayors and Hollywood celebrities linked arms to tout bills paving the way for a new wave of privately-managed, non-union charter schools. There were bright spots for the left: The Chicago Teachers Union, by building deep ties in the community, offering a left-wing alternative vision for reform and mounting a spirited strike, beat back concessions demanded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But the CTU’s aggressive opposition to the education reform consensus remains a minority approach within the country’s teachers unions – let alone within the Democratic Party.

The current struggle over Bridgeport’s school board stretches back to 2009. That was the year that the Working Families Party, a union-backed third party focused on economic issues, seized three board seats previously held by Republicans. (Bridgeport is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but by law, no single party can hold more than six of the board’s nine seats.)

Sparks flew right away. According to Farrell, immediately after congratulating the new WFP school board members on election night, Mayor Bill Finch told them that he believed Bridgeport should become more like New York City, which has an appointed school board. “He was basically telling people who had just won an election, on election night, that elections shouldn’t exist,” said Farrell.

While the new WFP members took only a third of the board’s seats, “they were very effective at questioning the status quo and the powers that be about what they were doing or not doing for the children of Bridgeport,” said Bridgeport teacher Rob Traber, the vice president of the Bridgeport Education Association. By 2011, with the city’s then-superintendent proposing unpopular budget cuts, Traber said the city’s political and business leaders became “afraid that they might lose control of the board” in that year’s November elections.

Those elections didn’t happen. In a July 2011 move supported by Finch and Gov. Dan Malloy, majorities of the Bridgeport school board and the Connecticut state board of education voted for the state to replace the Bridgeport board with its own appointees. Those included business leaders from outside the city. In February 2012, the Connecticut Supreme Court overrode the takeover, restoring Bridgeport school board elections and forcing a September 2012 special election to replace the replacements. Last summer, Mayor Finch and his allies launched a push to pass a November 2012 charter referendum that would once again end school board elections.

Joshua Thompson, Finch’s director of education and youth, defended the unsuccessful effort, saying the mayor was following the recommendations of “a report handed back to him” by a charter commission that was based on testimony by academics and “major reformers” like former New York City schools chief Joel Klein. “It seemed to be the best way to move school reform that’s deserving of our children,” Thompson told Salon. He said that maintaining an elected school board “would almost be perpetuating the definition of insanity” because it has shown an “inability to carry out what’s necessary for our children.” Thompson added that “taking the politics out” was “a catalyst” for reforms elsewhere.

Many critics of such reforms agree that they’re more likely to advance in the absence of elected school boards. “The reason people want mayoral control is they want more privatization faster,” former assistant U.S. secretary of education Diane Ravitch told Salon. “And the best way to get more privatization is to have only one person to deal with and to not have to listen to a board of education.”

“What we’ve seen in the past few years,” said Ravitch, “is that where there’s mayoral control, the mayor turns to the business community, and the business community wants privatization.”

In the weeks before the election, “the mayor and the corporate community pulled out every stop,” said Jonathan Pelto, a former Connecticut state legislator who’s consulted for unions. Pelto noted that the referendum effort received support from Michael Bloomberg, major businesses and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s Students First. Sacramento Mayor (and Rhee’s husband) Kevin Johnson came to Bridgeport to stump for the measure. (Students First did not respond to Salon’s request for comment.)

So why, in a year rife with setbacks, did progressives beat Rhee in Bridgeport? Advocates credit years of coalition-building and weeks of door-to-door canvassing. “I think one lesson is that there are no shortcuts,” said Farrell. “You have to do the organizing.” But she said the victory also showed that “when we talk about it in terms of democracy … we get farther than the old frames we’ve been using.”

Traber, whose union was a top funder of the anti-referendum effort, said the coalition made a pragmatic decision to focus its message on voter disenfranchisement rather than education policy. “We determined that if we allowed them to define the question on the basis of fixing the schools – even though we don’t think their solution is going to fix the schools – that they would win,” he told Salon. “But if we argued the case on the question of, ‘Under what circumstances does a citizen have the right to vote?,’ we would win.”

“I think there’s a large misnomer,” countered Thompson. “It was turned into, however people want to characterize it, as a ‘voter rights’ issue or what have you … Did you get to vote for Secretary of State? No.” Thompson noted that the school board issue was only one of many aspects of the charter referendum question, and said that the September election victories of some school board members who had originally been appointed was a sign of “people saying, ‘We like what’s been going on.’”

Pelto said that the mayor’s referendum campaign was also hurt by the perception that the city’s “white establishment” was trying to curtail voting rights in a majority non-white city whose public school students are overwhelmingly African-American or Latino. “It really came across as, ‘Don’t elect the board, let the white mayor elect the board,’” said Pelto. It didn’t help, he added, that “three of the last four or five mayors of Bridgeport have either gone to federal prison or resigned under the threat of going to prison.”

Having won the battle, said Traber, progressives now need to win the debate over charter expansion and high-stakes testing – beginning with citizens who voted to keep their right to elect the school board but might not oppose such “reforms.” He said that corporate-backed education reform efforts have gained support in part due to austerity and inequality: “The problem is there is a lack of resources devoted to the education of our children … The public sector is not in a position to address that problem, even though that’s where the solution should come from.” And so when private-sector players offer to fund projects in line with their ideology or interests, “that gives them great traction.”

Bridgeport has more education battles ahead. The school board is expected to vote within months on whether interim superintendent Paul Vallas, who’s clashed with reform critics during his tenures in Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia, will become Bridgeport’s permanent schools chief. Thompson told Salon that the Mayor’s upcoming priorities include expanding high school options, creating a military first-responder academy and raising “external funds” for increased early childhood programming. Asked about charters, he said “we can learn from anyone that’s getting success” and that whether their ranks grow will be in the hands of the superintendent and the legislature.

Meanwhile, battles over who chooses school board members could spread elsewhere in 2013. Traber said that his side’s referendum victory has already piqued interest in pushing for elected school boards in other major cities in Connecticut. And in non-binding referenda held in some Chicago precincts on election day, most voters expressed support for taking back the power to choose school board members from Mayor Emanuel.

While his side was routed on Election Day, Thompson said, “For me, the victory is that 30,000 people showed up and voted on an education issue.” Asked whether he was concerned that ending school board elections would have reduced such civic engagement in the future, he answered, “Absolutely not. There was no concern about that … We need to have folks that are just focused on our children.”


August 15, 2012

August 14 Primary Election is Major Win for Public Education

Filed under: Elections,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:47 pm

by Larry Miller

The August 14 Democratic primary election in Milwaukee was a victory for public education. Who lost? Democrats who support vouchers, the Republican Party and Tea Party activists.

At the center of this election was the seat in the 11th assembly district, a race between Mandela Barnes and Jason Fields. Jason Fields has been a longtime advocate for private school vouchers and other forms of privatization of public education. His work has not gone unnoticed by Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed Fields to the Governor’s education committee on reading.

Barnes addressed the issue of vouchers head on with Fields. Barnes did an old-fashioned grassroots, dialogue-at-doorsteps campaign to win landslide support of voters. Fields, on the other hand, relied on outside support in an attempt to hold his assembly seat.

To rally that support, in stepped the American Federation for Children (AFC). The American Federation for Children is an organization with roots in Milwaukee that promotes public school privatization through “voucher programs” and charter schools. It shares an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner, Wisconsin’s Alliance for School Choice (ASC).

The AFC spent over $100,000 in radio ads and glossy brochures sent to Milwaukee voters’ homes in an attempt to sway votes.

AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She is a Tea Party advocate and ally of the Koch brothers. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.

AFC is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is represented by former Rep. Scott Jensen on the ALEC “Education Task Force.” Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years. Jensen is one of the AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as “model” legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the “Education Savings Account Act,” which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary schools.

This AFC strategy for the August 14 primary election was a total failure. For any Democrats who stroll to the other side, let this be some indication of what can happen in the future.

The results of this election have to be somewhat disheartening to State Sen. Lena Taylor, who endorsed many of those defeated. She is a strong voucher advocate who supported the attempt at mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools and continues to raise governance issues around Milwaukee public schools, including the possibility of creating a New Orleans-style “recovery district.” Most of public schooling in New Orleans has been turned over to private chartering companies with questionable policies and results.

We need to pay attention to who stayed silent on the interference by the American Federation for Children. Silence in the face of right wing power moves amounts to complicity.

Hopefully this election will slow down any future attempts to privatize public schools.



August 8, 2012

August 14 Election: Crucial to Milwaukee’s Future

Filed under: Elections,Public Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:38 pm

By Larry Miller

There are crucial elections occurring on August 14. Private school vouchers are a central issue facing the candidates. While the Republican Party stands firmly behind voucher privatization, too many Democrats stand with them.

I hear Democrats say this or that person is good on most issues, just not vouchers. We can no longer say that vouchers and privatization of public education is a secondary or side issue. Just as Republicans have abandoned any real demand for jobs in Milwaukee’s communities of color, so have too many Democrats. We have also seen both sides of the aisle silent on the discriminatory criminal justice and incarceration policies that mainly affect African-American men.

I determined my support on these issues; voucher school privatization, jobs for poor communities in Milwaukee and the fight to end the new Jim Crow policies of incarceration of black men under the guise of the “war on drugs.”

I give my support to Mandela Barnes and Nikiya Harris. They will be new voices in the state legislature not afraid to address these life-and-death issues.

An important determinant for me in these crucial elections has been the involvement of the American Federation for Children (AFC). This Michigan-based right-wing organization is pro-voucher and has the support of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers. The AFC actively opposes the election of Mandela Barnes and the Nikiya Harris, along with Sandy Pasch (another candidate I support.)

Opposition by the AFC is a clear indication of who to vote for on issues of school privatization, jobs for the black community, discriminatory criminal justice issues, healthcare and much more. There has been silence by some Democrats in response to the AFC’s opportunist falsehoods and fabrications.

Please vote August 14. Your vote matters.

In putting forward these endorsements, I in no way represent the MPS board of directors or any of its members, including MPS school Board President Michael Bonds who has maintained neutrality in these Senate and Assembly races.

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