The Munger Muddle, Democrats for Education Reform, Obama, and the Koch Brothers et al Weave a Tangled Web that Might Just Kill Our Children’s Future (if we let it)
In a recent column, I outlined the connections between the advocates and funders of Proposition 32 and opponents of Proposition 30, noting the central role of Proposition 38 backer Molly Munger’s brother, Charles Munger, who has donated over $20 million of his own money to a campaign fund to gut unions and defund education. Charles’s main allies in this effort, as I pointed out in that column, are also big supporters of the privatization of education and other forms of profiteering at the expense of public schools.
It is clear that the incestuous political relationship between the Mungers is mutually beneficial in the short term and that Molly had hoped to kill Prop 30 with negative ads while passing her own initiative, and perhaps she just doesn’t mind if the political voice of teachers’ unions is silenced as collateral damage.
Ms. Munger has recently feigned ignorance about her brother’s activities in the hopes that we believe her to be an incompetent fool rather than a destructive, self-interested political operator. Her decision to pull her negative ad against Proposition 30 after an avalanche of criticism makes me lean toward the former, but who knows. I’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge. Either way, the effect is the same.
The connection just got a bit clearer last week…
Then there are those like state Senator Gloria Romero of Democrats for Education Reform who are openly advocating for union busting as a key to imposing corporate education reform in California. To that end, she has teamed up with the Koch brothers, hedge fund managers, and other oily figures to try to eviscerate unions as they did in Wisconsin. Some of her fellow corporate education reformers think her open attack on unions is a mistake, but she is forging ahead nonetheless.
The connection between those Democratic anti-union corporate education reformers and the briefly more aggressive Proposition 38 campaign just got a bit clearer last week when the LA Times posted a brief article, “Obama Advisor Complicates Gov. Jerry Brown’s Tax Campaign,” which suggested that we:
Forget Obama vs. Romney.
The biggest political match-up in California this November may be between the president and Gov. Jerry Brown — or at least their respective campaigns.
In one corner is Brown, who is working to pass a November ballot measure to raise taxes to help close the state’s deficit. In the other corner is Larry Grisolano, one of Obama’s top political advisors — and a key consultant to a rival California tax measure, Proposition 38.
Grisolano — or “Gris” as he is known in the Obama camp — is helping to cut spots for the Proposition 38 campaign, which this week launched an ad attacking Brown’s measure, Proposition 30.
The Democratic consultant managed former Gov. Gray Davis’ reelection campaign in 2002 and his unsuccessful effort to retain office in the following year’s recall.
Grisolano’s firm, AKPD Message and Media, has been paid more than $17.6 million for ad production for the Proposition 38 campaign, according to records filed with the secretary of state’s office.
Joe Arellano, a spokesman for the Proposition 38 campaign, said Grisolano is one of three consultants helping to produce ads.
Why does this matter? Aside from it being interesting that a top Obama advisor was engaged in trying to sabotage a sitting Democratic Governor’s tax measure campaign, the fact that the firm helping to do so is AKPD should raise some eyebrows as well. As I wrote a few weeks back in my piece on the Chicago teachers strike, the corporate allies of Rahm Emanuel relied on AKPD and others to produce advertisements attacking the Chicago Teachers Union before, during, and even after the strike. AKPD also has ties to key Obama inner circle figure David Axelrod and the Illinois gang of Democrats for Education Reform.
As the Chicago Tribune noted right before the strike:
In the days leading up to this month’s overwhelming vote by the union to authorize a strike if negotiations over a new contract fail, radio listeners around Chicago heard ads urging parents to contact teachers so they would “do right by the kids.” Since the vote, similar ads are airing that criticize union leaders.
The ads were produced by John Kupper of AKPD Message and Media, the self-described “lead message strategist” for Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign who, according to AKPD’s website, “continues to advise the mayor on a daily basis.”
Kupper declined to say whether he had discussed the publicity campaign with Emanuel. “My conversations with the mayor are a private matter,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune.
Asked at a school event Thursday whether he had any knowledge about the radio ads before they aired or whether he talked to anyone at AKPD about them, Emanuel said, “No.”
The effort is just the latest example of Emanuel allies doing the heavy lifting of public-relations work while the mayor seeks to stay above the fray on a contentious issue. The ads are sponsored by an affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform, an organization that has supported Emanuel’s push for a longer school day and more charter schools and also has implored the Chicago Teachers Union to negotiate with the mayor’s administration on a new contract.
If we are to assume that Grisolano knows, as most savvy political observers in California do, that the only thing a robust Proposition 38 campaign is likely to do is kill Proposition 30 without bringing Prop 38 victory, then one wonders what the real agenda might be.
While it is reasonable to assume that Molly Munger’s money has bought her enough sycophants to convince her that 38 really has a chance to win, some (politically wiser) folks might be supportive of a 38/30 war for other reasons. Perhaps because Governor Brown has not been a big fan of Race to the Top and, as the Proposition 30 campaign’s very existence acknowledges, he sees that adequate funding is central to improving education—unlike the “no excuses” crowd cheering on Race to the Top’s ill-advised strategy.
Worse still, there are many, like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and Gates’s pals in the billionaire boys club, who think that budget crises are a good thing because the accompanying scarcity can be used as a hammer to impose “reform.”
What’s the real story? We’ll never know, but something smells rotten. Are “Gris” and company motivated by ideology or dollar signs? Sadly the effect of their putting up obstacles to Proposition 30 is the same either way.
Thus, whether it is an accidental marriage of convenience or a more sinister Machiavellian ploy, the forces behind 32 and 38 (that happy gang that includes the Koch brothers, the Mungers, hedge fund managers, privatization advocates, and Democrats for Education reform) are working together to politically marginalize unions and gut education funding in California by doing what they can to defeat Proposition 30 and pass 32.
And unfortunately, they were joined by new group of anti-tax zealots from Arizona who chipped in $11 million to help sink Proposition 30 last week. That makes about $41 million bucks dumped into the mix to crush California’s schools by a handful of plutocrats.
To his credit, Jerry Brown came out and demanded that the shadowy figures behind this latest donation “unmask” themselves so the voters know who is really behind the effort to kill 30 and pass 32. But it’s unlikely this will happen. We know there are ties to privatization forces, anti-immigration wing nuts, and corporate education reformers, but these folks aren’t that keen to show their faces publicly. That would make for an uncomfortably honest debate. Better to conceal your interests and hope to fool the rubes.
Whatever the alignment of interests, what is clear is that the hubris, cynicism, greed, and recklessness of unchecked moneyed interests are threatening the future of our children. If this tangled web of deception, ego, and political calculation manages to leave our education system $6 billion in the hole on November 7th, there will be hell to pay and it will be our kids who will take the brunt of it. That’s the bottom line.
While none of this is good news, the most recent polling from the ultraconservative Reason-Rupe outfit shows that it’s still a dead heat with Proposition 30 leading 50% to 46% and Proposition 32 losing with 45% of voters supporting it and 48% opposed. Proposition 38 on the other hand is dead, predictably lagging with only 42% of voters supporting it and 52% opposed. Suffice to say, it’s a nail bitter on both fronts but there is hope.
So let’s not get “Mungered”: we can pass Prop 30, defeat 32, and hope this unholy marriage of the right and left wings dies at the altar.
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