Recently in the lead up to the Janus vs. AFSCME case that hit the Supreme Court last week, I wrote several columns focusing on the impact of the Koch brothers’ network’s attack on the union movement, the Democratic Party, and public education. Thus, I was cheered to learn that the California Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed the stalwart progressive Tony Thurmond over Marshall Tuck for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
While this is a low-profile affair as statewide races go, it is important because lots of moneyed interests see it as a way to push their agenda under the radar here in super blue California. As I noted during Tuck’s last failed campaign for the same office, he is a stealth front man, “the pure embodiment of the reckless, unaccountable arrogance of corporate education reform”:
As Diane Ravitch recently put it in her blog, “What qualifies Tuck to run the state education department? Well, he was an investment banker. The rich and powerful like him. He has friends in Hollywood. He thinks no teacher should have tenure. He failed as leader of Green Dot. He failed running the mayor’s takeover schools. That means he is an expert on reform.”
And just in case you might be thinking she exaggerates the extent to which Tuck is a tool of plutocrats, last week’s campaign report from “Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent 2014” showed that his support is not so much from Mom and Dad and the kindergarten teachers as it is from rich folks with big plans to “disrupt” California’s schools.
And despite his earlier loss, Tuck, a former Wall Street investment banker and CEO for a charter school company who has no classroom teaching experience or any expertise whatsoever with regard to education, is back with his robust privatization agenda. That agenda, and the fact that he is a registered Democrat with millionaires and billionaires behind his candidacy make him dangerous.
But it’s not just the usual California members of the billionaire boys club that are backing Tuck this time. Now, in the era of Trump and DeVos, he has some new, more disturbing allies. As the LA Progressive recently reported:
The privatizers’ ideal candidate for California State Superintendent, Marshall Tuck, recently suffered a serious blow to his credibility when he announced he was returning a contribution from a mysterious anti-gay zealot but keeping over $61,000 from a PAC. The situation revealed a campaign scrambling to maintain a narrative that appeals to California’s mostly progressive voters when the reality is much darker. . . .
Tuck set himself up for a fall last August, when he pledged “…our campaign has not accepted—and will not accept—contributions from companies or PACs.”
However, on January 11, Tuck’s campaign reported receiving $23,725 and $37,430 from a PAC called Govern for California, chaired by George Penner, husband of Walmart heir Carrie Walton Penner, as well as $5000 from Fieldstead & Co.
Contributions from PACs are legally limited to $7300, far below the sum Tuck received from Govern for California.
Thurmond filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission and called Tuck out for reneging on his promise. “Tuck is…claiming to take clean money while in fact being funded by PACs and pro-privatizing billionaires.” . . .
The campaign filed amended reports, unpacking the PAC to list individuals, and revealing that the Fieldstead & Co. contribution was actually from a person, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr.
Ahmanson’s name set off alarm bells with LGBTQ groups such as Equality California because of his association with a dark chapter in California politics.
Upon further review, this campaign contribution represents precisely the kind of unholy marriage that a handful of Democratic politicians seem willing to engage in when it comes to the politics of education. One wonders how these California Democratic politicians feel about being in the company of someone like Ahmanson of whom the LA Progressive observes:
It would not be a stretch to say that Ahmanson and members of the Prince and DeVos families are part of a Dominionist cabal, using extreme wealth to reorient American government toward extremist Christian doctrine. They regularly attend The Gathering, a “shadowy, powerful network” of hard-right Christian funders, according to an investigation published in the Daily Beast.
“The Gathering is as close to a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ as you’re likely to find,” Jay Michaelson reported. Attendees are the “wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America and have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine ‘religious liberty,’ fight same-sex marriage, [and] fight evolution…” he wrote. It was at The Gathering where Betsy DeVos said she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom” through public schools. It was there that she and her husband said that school choice was a way to reverse the history of public schools displacing the Church as the center of communities.
DeVos and Ahmanson are each doing their part as religious warriors in the crusade. With the help of a compliant Congress, DeVos is exploding the barrier that historically separated American public education from religion. She has promoted school vouchers to pay for religious schools, withdrawn Obama Administration guidance that protected transgender students, and is trying to give churches the chance to reclaim their place at the center of communities by expanding school choice.
Ahmanson is doing his part by contributing to candidates like Marshall Tuck who will make this extreme agenda seem palatable even to California progressives. Tuck’s maneuvering to hide Ahmanson’s name was critical to the effort.
Of course, the hope of Tuck’s supporters is that perhaps no one will notice. Maybe, they think, the big money will push him over the finish line this time despite the sleazy right-wing connections that would seem an anathema to voters here on the Left Coast. We can only trust that the vast majority California’s Democratic voters will join those Democrats at the state convention last week who rejected Tuck’s second bid to open California schools to the kinds of right-wing privatization schemes that have wreaked havoc elsewhere in the country.