By David Hill - 03/01/06 12:00 AM EST
We’re starting to see brazen attempts to influence or shape the composition of state electorates through initiatives and referendums.
Want more conservative Republicans voting? Well then, put a proposal banning gay marriages on the ballot. Need to lure more liberal Democrats to the polls? Collect enough signatures to force a minimum-wage initiative onto the ballot.
Recently, I reviewed 17 potential statewide ballot measures that might be decided in initiative-crazy Colorado this coming November. There’s something in the pipeline for everyone, it seems. The Democrats may get ballot measures for a higher minimum wage, civil unions and a prescription-drug plan. The Republicans favor measures preserving traditional marriage and limiting state services to illegal immigrants.
The harder-to-classify wild card in this field of ballot measures is something called the “65 percent solution,” a proposal being advanced by First Class Education, a group led by Arizonan Tim Mooney. Mooney wants 10 states to vote this November on his plan to require states to spend 65 cents of every education dollar “in the classroom for teachers and kids,” rather than on administration.
Because George Will endorsed the concept in 2005, it has come to be seen as a Republican measure. Some high-level Democrats seem so spooked by this thing that they are trying furiously to stop it. They cite a “secret memo” allegedly written by Mooney promising political benefits to Republicans.
I’m not so sure, either about Mooney or his plan.
To appreciate my suspicions, you have to understand how Mooney’s plan works. He wants to allow a federal bureaucracy in Washington, the National Center for Educational Statistics, to decide what counts as an “in-the-classroom” expenditure and what does not. Mooney’s bureaucrats count football coaches as being in the classroom while librarians are not.
The Arizonan’s federal bookkeepers have decreed that New York is the gold standard of states — No. 1 — when it comes to spending money in the classroom. Only a handful of states meet the feds’ standard.
Well, I just can’t see Republicans in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan and other “noncompliant” states targeted by Mooney streaming to the polls to make their school systems like New York’s. Hillary Clinton’s Democrats might buy that, but not red-blooded Republicans.
Consider Pueblo, Colo.’s District 70 school system, which covers 1,400 square miles with a fleet of buses that inner-city schools cannot even imagine. In a state like Colorado, this proposal’s presence on the ballot will ensure that a higher than usual number of rural Democrats, worried about losing school bus service, will turn out in droves. This won’t help the GOP candidate for governor.
The First Class Education crowd also undermines local control of education, shifting decisionmaking to Washington.
I’m running into more and more Republicans who are starting to ask if Mooney’s ideas are really Republican. Just because a few Republican politicians fell for the bumper-sticker concept of spending more in the classroom doesn’t qualify this as a Republican idea.
Even Will acknowledged Mooney’s plan will likely inflate teacher salaries significantly. Maybe that’s why teachers unions aren’t really battling Mooney. They understand that fat labor contracts, all “inside the classroom,” will come if he’s successful in beating up school administrators. When that is understood, some partisan stances may be altered.
As more comes to light about Mooney and his background, Republicans may feel like jumping off the 65 percent bandwagon.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.