Kevin Johnson, a former NBA all-star now serving as the Democrat Mayor of his hometown, Sacramento, California, addressed a packed crowd at Seattle’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church Thursday evening on the most important “civil rights issue of the 21st century,” as he called it: public education.
Johnson was in town as a guest of the League of Education Voters to kick off their “Voices from the Education Revolution” speaking series.
In 1993, as a member of the Phoenix Suns, Johnson and his teammates traveled to Boston to take on the Celtics. While there, Johnson sat down with Senator Ted Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate,” to discuss public education in the United States, the charter school movement, and the importance of school choice in America’s communities. To his chagrin, Johnson spun his wheels talking with Kennedy in his office. Later in the season, while in Washington, D.C., to play the Bullets, Johnson met with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas, a staunch conservative, shared Johnson’s vision of a public education system in the United States that did not hinder parents and their children from pursuing the best public education available.
The lesson for Johnson? “Stick to your convictions and drop your assumptions.”
Johnson has long held a passion for public education, a passion that grew as a student at Sacramento High School. Therefore, in 1989, in his rookie season in the NBA, Johnson founded the nonprofit community development organization, St. HOPE. Today, St. HOPE is helping provide children in Sacramento the opportunity to achieve their dreams and go on to college – a thought foreign to the same students only a decade ago. The mission of St. HOPE, according to its website, is to “revitalize inner-city communities through public education, civic leadership, economic development and the arts.” It is a public-private partnership that is revitalizing inner-city Sacramento.
Early this decade, Sacramento High School was failing, miserably. Only twenty percent of its students were prepared to enter college upon graduating. So, Johnson and St. HOPE, with the blessing of the school district’s superintendent, desired to take over the school and transform it with new initiatives in math, science, engineering, and civic involvement. However, a roadblock stood in the way: the State’s teachers union. The union spent $750,000 to fight the move and encouraged its teachers to do the same. Thankfully for St. HOPE, a Sacramento law firm fought back on its behalf. Johnson and St. HOPE won the legal battle and now, according to Johnson, seventy-five percent of Sacramento High School’s students graduate with a college education in their future.
The union, explained Johnson, fought “to protect the status quo” rather than a first-rate education.
The crowd assembled at Mt. Zion heard his message loud and clear.
State Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue), known affectionately by some as “Turncoat Tom” for his party switch a few years ago, is frustrated because some crisis pregnancy centers don’t offer women the opportunity to kill their unborn children. He’s offered a bill (SB 6452) to remedy the “problem.”
The bill encourages people to sue crisis pregnancy centers under the Consumer Protection Act if, for example, a center commits such atrocities as not immediately disclosing that they don’t provide or refer abortion services. It allows an “aggrieved party” to bring a private cause of action against crisis pregnancy centers without limiting who can be be an “aggrieved party”. Someone can make a claim against a center and be awarded damages without even proving any damages. The kicker–the bill only applies to pregnancy centers that don’t offer abortion. Basically, Washington law would require a person to prove damages if they sue an abortion clinic but not if they sue a crisis pregnancy center.
Like many Democrats in the legislature, Tom is in a pickle. His largest funders (i.e., public employee unions) are mad at the Ds because even with large majorities in both the House and Senate they’ve been unable to muster the gumption to raise taxes rather than cut spending (those pesky voters just keep getting in the way of labor’s agenda). The largest unions have been threatening to run hard-left candidates against the more “moderate” Democrat legislators, and have even re-routed their usual campaign contributions to a new PAC rather than the caucus campaign funds. The Democrats need to energize part of their base heading into the 2010 elections.
Voters aren’t in the mood for the sort of tax increases labor is advocating (funny how recessions and a 10% unemployment rate can do that). Tom needs something to appeal to his liberal base, and this is the magic bullet. When all else fails, bowing to the Sacrament of Abortion is a sure-fire winner (after all, it’s just a safe, routine medical procedure).
Tom is one of those eastside Democrats who claims the “socially liberal (or moderate), fiscally conservative” mantle. Yet while the Democrats are grappling with how to fill a $2.6 billion deficit, Tom’s bill actually increases state spending. Moreover, his voting record on spending only reaffirms what columnist Mark Steyn astutely observed about such folk:
“The reality is that almost every ’socially liberal, fiscally conservative’ politician turns out to be fiscally liberal — in the same way that, if you mix half a pint of vanilla ice cream with half a pint of horse manure, it’s not hard to figure which taste will predominate.”
At best, Tom is short-sighted. He’s emblematic of the left’s penchant for creating lavish government programs while giving people the “right” to kill off the very generations the county will need to pay for all of it. The declining birthrates in the West (tempered only by the influx of immigrants) are building a fiscal tsunami on the horizon as the baby boomers begin retiring.
It’s a sad irony for the left–they would be wise to actually encourage breeding so tomorrow there are enough workers/taxpayers to pay for the welfare state they’re building today. Alas, political expediency triumphs.
Ultimately, Tom’s bill is an effort by the abortion industry and liberal Democrats to drive crisis pregnancy centers out of operation. How’s that for choice?
Democrats and the interest groups feeding at the public trough were quick to look south with a smile today, and a glimmer of hope undoubtedly twinkled in their eyes as Oregon voters approved Measures 66 and 67. KIRO’s Dave Ross thinks this may send a message, but I think the details may tell another story. At the very least, Washingtonians should give serious thought to what the Oregon vote portends here.
Measure 66 raises the state income tax on households earning more than $250,000. Washington lawmakers have no such option, in all practicality. Given national trends, majority Democrats in Olympia are unlikely to pass a high-earners income tax this year and income taxes in general have major electoral hurdles to overcome in Washington. Recent political events compound that problem for Democrats.
The left does, however, however, realize that this idea has the best prospects in the long run. Why? Because it’s easy to convince people to increase taxes they don’t have to pay. That’s the problem with a progressive tax structure–you’re giving people all sorts of free goodies while promising most voters that some other person will pay for it. The “rich” are a convenient target for the left, which loves to use “values” as a pretense for plundering from the profitable (try talking about “values” in any other context, however, and you’re promptly scolded for trying to impose your views on other people).
Measure 67 raises minimum corporate taxes and increases taxes on “upper level” profits. Again, this is much more difficult in Washington. Washington’s Business and Occupation Tax is a tax on gross receipts, so even if your company doesn’t earn a profit the state still gets its cut (how’s that for values?). Small businesses suffer under this the most, which is why lawmakers are reluctant to raise it because the impact is broadly felt and not just targeted to faceless wealthy corporations that are easily demonized. Targeted B&O increases could be an option, but the larger companies in Washington would likely put up a strong fight.
Based on conversations I’ve had with some Democratic legislators in Olympia, I think some of them realize that you don’t encourage private sector growth by raising taxes on the very businesses you want to create more jobs. Oregon’s unemployment rate has been running higher than Washington’s, and the passage of Measure 67 isn’t going to help. Taking a cue from Tony Soprano, Oregon voters just sent a message to Oregon businesses: “Grow, and we’ll take a bigger cut.” There are enough moderate Democrats in Olympia and enough commonsense voters in Washington who know better.
Another factor to consider is Oregon’s odd political landscape. As Floyd McKay pointed out in a recent Crosscut article,
Oregon is weirdly counter-cyclical in terms of its politics. When I first began covering Oregon politics, Barry Goldwater had just driven the Republican wagon into the ditch in his 1964 presidential campaign and Democrats were resurgent everywhere. Except in Oregon, where Republicans overturned Democratic control of the Legislature and began nearly a decade running the Oregon House. … As Republicans surged in the Reagan years, Oregon became a solidly Democratic state, controlling both houses of the legislature and beginning in 1986 a line of Democratic governors that continues to this day. Republicans recaptured the Oregon House during the Clinton years, and during the administration of George W. Bush Oregon’s Democrats were firmly in control. Oregon seems to swim against the tide.
The Oregon Trail is uniquely Oregonian. Politicos thinking they can replicate the Measure 66 and 67 vote here in Washington this year should think long and hard before trying. This is not to say such efforts would surely fail (the internet is clogged with political predictions that didn’t come true), only that what happened south of the Columbia River yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean Washington voters would take the same route.