by Félix Pérez/Image by Johntel Greene
The shock of the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature and governor ramming through right-to-work legislation in the waning days of 2012 has yet to subside, but the historic number of state legislatures with veto-proof majorities this year could result in similar ideologically motivated laws that target public education, middle-class America and workers.
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Twenty-five state legislatures have large enough single-party majorities to override gubernatorial vetoes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Sixteen of those legislatures are controlled by Republicans; the other nine by Democrats.
Perhaps more telling, one party will hold the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers in at least 37 states. Twenty-four of those states will be controlled by Republicans and 13 by Democrats. The number of states controlled by a single party is the highest since 1952.
“The power grab we witnessed by Republicans in Michigan in December — and in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana the year before that — makes it clear that extremist state elected officials will not hesitate to pursue destructive laws regardless of the consequences to the hardworking people who teach our children, keep us healthy, protect our streets, and build our roads and vehicles,” said Karen White, former Michigan high school English teacher and director of Campaigns and Elections for the National Education Association.
Among the legislative threats that educators and workers might face this year are right-to-work in Alaska, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Assaults on collective bargaining and public pensions are on the watch list, as are the siphoning of taxpayer dollars from public education for private, for-profit and religious schools, devaluing the teaching profession by tying teacher evaluations predominantly to student performance on standardized tests, and making it more difficult for students, blacks and Hispanics to cast a ballot through voter suppression proposals.
Also at risk is funding for public education, health care and other public services upon which children and families rely. Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are recent examples of states that have cut funding to public education to pay for corporate tax breaks.
According to NCSL analyst Karen Shanton, the number of veto-proof state legislatures “provides us with a snapshot of the current state of the nation. When set alongside historical data, this snapshot hints at a country that’s shifting toward political extremes. . . . The number of veto-proof legislatures could bounce back down in the future. But – for now, at least – the polarization that is so prominent in national politics seems to be echoed at the state level.”
NEA’s White, whose job it is to defend and advocate for educators and the students they serve, agrees that the middle class and the services they rely on face significant threats from hyper-partisan state legislators and governors such as Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. But she said these lawmakers risk facing the wrath of an increasingly engaged and informed electorate that prefers “fairness and balance over vindictiveness and petty politics.”
Josh Brown, who teaches global studies at Goodrell Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, typifies the new generation of engaged education voters who understands activism does not end after an election:
Now educators need to work with the leaders that were elected at the local, state and national levels to present our vision for schools. In order for our work to mean something, we need to be able to talk to our elected leaders about what is occurring at the local level in our schools and how various policies are impacting our students and classrooms.
Said White, “One of the most noteworthy developments of the 2012 elections is the degree to which educators and others in their communities were involved. Whether it was one-on-one conversations with neighbors, phone banking, knocking on doors, putting up yard signs, sharing over Facebook, Tweeting, making donations, you name it. I expect that energy and commitment to carry over this year, especially if legislators overreach and forget who they serve.”