Industrialist Henry Ford said, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." Apparently ol' Hank never paid much attention to politics.
Idaho Superintendent of Public Schools, Tom Luna, claimed he was the victim of "union thuggery" when an, as yet, unidentified person spray painted graffiti on his truck parked in his driveway in the dead of night. No evidence of union involvement ever surfaced. Neither has evidence been disclosed of Luna doing it himself. But that didn't stop Tom Luna from getting some media air time and blaming the Idaho Education Association for the crime, in an obvious effort to sway public sympathy for him and his radical plan to privatize Idaho public education.
Luna's plan was unheralded in his recent campaign for re-election. Neither did Luna consult with myriad stakeholders who would be impacted by its draconian changes. In other words, the plan was an orchestrated political ambush. And while the legislature accommodated some hearings on the plan, the participants of which were overwhelmingly opposed, the education deform legislation was signed into law barely four months after it was unveiled, with little change. Political and legal opposition formed during and after the session, with efforts currently underway to hold a referendum on the plan, recall Luna and two legislators, and a lawsuit filed by the IEA to challenge many de-professionalizing aspects of the legislation. But many of these efforts are strictly reactionary, not strategically thought out or comprehensive, with some from barely organized groups struggling to mount an opposition to a plan already in the implementation stage.
The stated impetus for the overhaul came from a $47 million revenue shortfall and conservative assessments of projected revenue, which have already been exceeded by $74 million. As a result of these conservative estimates, education bond levies are scheduled throughout the state on Tuesday, to raise the money the state failed to allocate. In other words, and what is a monumental testament to political cowardice, Luna, the governor, and the legislature are requiring school administrators to do what they refused to do, ask the voters for the money. Should electors in these school districts fail to pass the levies, these districts will be more economically distressed and therefore politically pliable. Luna has already meddled in these elections by suggesting that “[p]ublic schools could receive up to $50 million more in discretionary funding under this current scenario,” in a recent e-mail to school administrators. Luna wants these levies to fail so he can maintain the power to force reform.
Luna's latest weapon in this cause, Idaho's Code of Ethics applicable to educators, was deployed on Friday by virtue of another memo to state administrators. Again, relying on unsubstantiated hearsay, like Luna did when attacking the IEA for an act of vandalism, Luna accused a very expansive list of educators of wrongful political conduct by utilizing state education resources. Luna's recitation of the law to administrators is puzzlingly broad, prohibiting political conduct on "school grounds" when the code of ethics fails to mention the term anywhere. Indeed, Luna's memo is in the terms of an imperative black or white directive, when indeed the law is quite ambiguous and as yet untested against the weight of the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions.
But the threats contained in the memo are inescapable. Luna threatened these educators with the loss of their Idaho certification, saying, not only can they all lose their jobs for exercising their first amendment rights, their careers in Idaho are also in jeopardy. In addition Luna also throws in a healthy dose of suspicion and paranoia, reminding educators of their affirmative responsibility to report any transgression of the Code of Ethics they may observe. To emphasize educators' ethical obligation to turn on each other, Luna's memo includes the contact information of the Idaho Professional Standards Commission with a form for the filing of complaints.
The memo is couched in terms of a reminder, but its a heavy handed tactic designed to chill political activity by his political opponents on the eve of an election in which Luna has a stake. Luna wields these rules like a political broadsword, rules which have no application to Luna and his fellow Republicans, who endeavored to use school facilities when doing some post election campaigning last fall. So not only does Luna ironically attempt to utilize ethical rules to diminish constitutional rights, despite his own glaring conflict of interest, he does so hypocritically utilizing the same resources Idaho law deprives actual educators from using. Luna operates from the Republican handbook, using intimidation and fear to motivate, this time away from participating in the democratic process.
UPDATED 5/17: I gussied this up a bit the morning after, as I often do.