April Fools Political Lowlights. We Wish We Were Kidding.
Photo: Danny Peck/NEA
By Cynthia McCabe
You can’t make this stuff up. And believe us, we wish we were. But from coast to coast, there’s been no shortage of moments in politics and policy lately that have American workers and the middle class wondering if they’re being punked by the politicians sent to the statehouse to represent them.
In honor of April Fools Day, we present 10 of the most forehead slap-inducing moments in recent legislative and political action. (Several were contributed by our fans on the Speak Up for Education & Kids Facebook page.)
1. Despite a judge’s ruling not to do so, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers made an end run last week and printed a law quashing the rights of public workers in the state. Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order against the law’s publication a little over a week ago, citing concerns that Republican senators might have violated the state’s open-meetings law with their late-night maneuvering to get the bill passed. But the Republicans had the law printed anyway. That prompted Sumi yesterday to issue a ruling saying she was serious about her earlier ruling, prompting the governor to say he’d comply with state law — which makes for news these days.
2. Florida Gov. Rick Scott invoked his emergency powers and cut 15 percent from the reimbursement rates for group home and case workers who serve 30,000 Floridians with cerebral palsy, autism, and Down Syndrome. Scott claimed the cuts to aides for the physically and mentally challenged in Florida are necessary to address a budget deficit, while at the same time offering nearly $3 billion in corporate and property tax cuts. After announcing the cuts Thursday, Scott was on his way to an evening promotional event for the Special Olympics.
3. From Colleen Myers, early childhood specialist in Michigan: “Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing an added $470.00 per-pupil cut in funding to public education… and he just signed legislation to cut unemployment benefits from 26 down to 20 weeks. This is going to have a huge impact on our families. While it is easy to blame teachers and schools for the bigger systemic problems in our state, by signing this legislation, it just shows how out of touch he is with his constituents. There is no equal access to education. Children who live in poor rural or urban neighborhoods do not have the tax base needed to support education and if these proposed cuts take place, it will have a devastating impact in our state.”
4. Even children aren’t safe in the current anti-worker political climate. In Maine this week, Republican lawmakers introduced bills that would eliminate the cap on hours a child over 16 can work on a school day and extend the number of hours that an employer can require a child to work. They followed in the footsteps of lawmakers in Utah and Missouri who sought to roll back the law prohibiting children younger than 14 from working and who claimed child labor laws were unconstitutional.
5. When impassioned Ohio citizens — many of them educators and fellow public servants — stood up in the statehouse Thursday and cried “Shame on you!” at legislators passing anti-worker, anti-middle class legislation, the House speaker sniped them into an open microphone. As the protesters made their voices heard and were removed from the public chamber, House Speaker William Batchelder (R-Medina) stated dryly, “Now that the intellectuals have left the chamber…”
6. Two hours. That’s how long it takes to become an emergency financial manager and eradicate workers’ rights in Michigan now. From teacher Laurie Orr Houck: “The governor of Michigan has somehow passed ‘emergency financial manager’ legislation that allows him to declare any public entity (school, city) to be in crisis, and basically appoint a king, otherwise known as emergency financial manager. This person can come in and wipe out contracts, as well as remove elected officials. They have already trained 60 of these managers, in a two-hour training session.”
7. From Pennsylvania educator Megan Mabry: “Governor Tom Corbett is slashing $1 billion from education, from the block grant which pays for kindergarten in Pennsylvania, to a 50 percent-reduction in funding for our 14 state universities. Zero tax on the gas drilling/fracking corporation which plans to come into Pennsylvania,” though.
8. Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage can’t define offensive art but he knows it when he sees it. Believing one of the most pressing concerns in his state was a mural depicting the history of the labor movement in the state, LePage had it removed from the walls of a public building. And that public building where the labor mural was hanging inappropriately? It was the Department of Labor.
9. As they did in Wisconsin, Minnesota legislators took the wee-hours approach to passing unpopular legislation slashing the rights of workers to have a say in their working conditions. From educator Scott Coffman: “At 2:45 a.m. Wednesday the GOP-controlled statehouse voted to do away with tenure and institute a five-year contract, ban strikes, curtail collective bargaining, put in a voucher program, and freeze special ed. funding. This is the ‘Minnesota nice’ version of the Wisconsin/Walker plan.”
10. And now for something we really wish we were joking about. The battles for great schools for every student are not over. Politics promise more mischief and short-sighted thinking ahead. But YOU have the chance to stand up and take action.
That’s what members of the Alabama Education Association are doing.
“There is a movement occurring inspired by educators,” said Alabama educator Debbie Landers-Scott. “We are starting rallies all over our state for public education. We just had one where about 300 showed on a cold rainy day. Great media coverage also. I want to believe that this will have a trickle-down effect. I know we can’t allow these radicals to destroy 20 years of progress in education.”
It’s easy to get started. First, sign up as an online volunteer with EducationVotes.org. You’ll hear about events and calls to action in your state, in which you can play a significant role. And sign NEA’s National Petition for Workers’ Rights!