Seattle's News Elixir

Seattle Times writer Lynne Varner has picked up the story about major Democratic donor Nick Hanauer's fight with Democrats and the teachers' union over education reform.

PubliCola first published Hanauer's email to his fellow Democratic donors last week. We have since published a response to Hanauer—an "Open Letter to PubliCola"—from teachers' union president Mary Lindquist—and then, yesterday, a response to her response from Hanauer.

Phew! It's a hefty debate and has generated hundreds of comments. You'll find it all here.

Varner comes down on Hanauer's side.
If Lindquist and Democrats mean to shush Hanauer and other critics, they are purposefully ignoring the donkey in the room, which is this: a growing number of Democrats are unhappy with their elected leaders' refusal to go big on education reforms.

Reformers watched in dismay as Democratic leaders blocked key reforms including exchanging an outdated seniority-based layoff policy for one based on performance and overhauling the billion-dollar health-insurance program for school employees.

Hanauer is the Democrats' guy. He wants them to win and has long put his money where his mouth is. So what do you do when a friend tells you that you are wrong? You listen.

It is a matter of political life or death. Votes are up for grabs this election year.

Party identity is down. More people consider themselves politically independent these days than a Democrat or a Republican.

A generation ago, the political lines were clearer, particularly on education issues. But Republicans smartly shed right-wing tirades against the federal Department of Education and for vouchers. Democrats meanwhile remain fixated on tight education budgets, which while true, makes them appear stuck in a time warp.

Staking ground on education reform has fallen to a relatively new cadre of Republicans such as state Sens. Joe Fain of Auburn; Andy Hill of Redmond; and Steve Litzow of Mercer Island. By joining with moderate Democrats, including Sen. Rodney Tom, Medina, a key compromise toughening teacher evaluations was revived.

For all their talk about vulnerable families and struggling schoolchildren, Democrats in the House were largely silent as their colleague, Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, stepped up with a charter-school bill so unthreatening it could have been used as a trial balloon. Turns out some liberal Democrats are as sick of failing schools as everyone else. Democrats for Education Reform is one of a number of new pro-reform advocacy groups.

Don't forget that most prominent of Democrats who is leading the public school reform charge: President Obama.

An addendum, though: While Varner mentions Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37, S. Seattle) as one house Democrat who has challenged Democratic Party orthodoxy, she leaves out some important history—a cadre of house Democrats, most notably Reps. Reuven Carlyle (D-36), Ross Hunter (D-48), and Pat Sullivan (D-47), who defied the teachers' union in 2009 to get the ball rolling on reform and lead the fight to pass a bill that redefined basic education.

That bill, HB 2661, in fact, was at the heart of the January 2012 Washington State Supreme Court decision which said the state has to fully fund schools; the ruling said 2661's reforms provided a blueprint of what needed to be funded. The union fought against that bill.
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