Carlson: Where’s the beef?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The month of August is fast disappearing. Has anyone seen any evidence that the most momentous vote Idahoans may ever make is only a couple months away?

No, it’s not how Idaho votes in the presidential election. That’s a foregone conclusion: the Romney/Ryan ticket has Idaho’s four electoral votes in the bag.

No, the most important issue on the ballot is the three measures to repeal the key elements of the alleged Otter/Luna Educational Reform package. The three initiatives are critical to providing a real teacher-led effort at reform rather than the balderdash served up so far by conservative Republicans.

Unless the Idaho Education Association has polls showing the repeals to be significantly ahead, which is doubtful, it appears the strategy for the “repealers” is to find a big name leading public figure to be the face for a significant media campaign.

If “repealers” do go that route, one hopes they will select a credible spokesperson, preferably one with solid Republican credentials, like former Governor Phil Batt or former State Superintendent Jerry Evans. Ideally, they also should pair them with the mother of school age children who can speak eloquently of her concerns and her lack of confidence in the Otter/Luna reforms. This is needed as an antidote to First Lady Lori Otter’s ads in support of the three laws.

One suspects proponents are going to saturate the airwaves themselves.

Rest assured, companies that provide computer programs and on-line learning will dump several million into a “support our kids first” campaign that will match dollar for dollar if not exceed whatever the “repealers” raise.

Reportedly, IEA and supportive unions have pledged a $2 million budget. So far there is virtually no evidence for even a portion of that sum being spent on a critical component for success – a well organized grass roots effort.

Motivated teachers and concerned parents should be organized and out on the hustings. Many of Idaho’s counties hold their fairs in August. Where are the information booths manned by parents and teachers with literature, buttons and bumper stickers? Where are the precinct captains plotting literature drops, scheduling phone banks and getting volunteers ready to drive those to the polls that will need rides?

If there’s a campaign being mounted, it’s the most silent, stealth like campaign one has ever witnessed.

The lead “Idaho” campaign consultant is former State Rep. Brian Cronin, a veteran campaigner in his former district and statewide. Brian has been an education consultant for several years and is considered by many of his former House colleagues to be a reasonable and thoughtful voice on education issues.

He now works for Strategies 360, a Seattle-based consulting firm closely aligned to unions and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, a former fiance of Ron Dotzhauer, who heads up the firm. Talented but also possessed of an enormous ego, Dotzhauer is without question the most brilliant strategist Democrats in the northwest and Alaska can retain.

He ran Scoop Jackson’s last campaign for the US Senate, both of Booth Gardner’s gubernatorial campaigns, Senator Cantwell’s “comeback” campaign in which she knocked off long-time Republican senator , Slade Gorton, and six years later engineered her defeat of Gorton protege and one of the founding partners of the Gallatin Group, Mike McGavick.

Dotzhauer is very good, there’s no doubt about it. The question is will he listen to the advice of Cronin who is on the scene and in touch (but not necessarily yet in tune) with the finicky nature of the Idaho electorate?

There’s a legitimate fear that campaign folks based elsewhere (Seattle, Portland, Spokane) will listen to former Idaho State Senator John Stocks, now head of the NEA and also the architect of the Republicans massive defeat earlier this year of an egregious ballot initiative in Ohio that would have gutted collective bargaining.

After all, Stocks signs the checks and it’s the “golden rule” – he who has the gold, rules!

IEA board members ought to insist on seeing the breakdown of how the 360 firm intends to spend the $2 million. How much has been allocated for polling? How much for grass roots organizing and get out the vote efforts? How much for tv and radio? How much for direct mail? Print ads? Brochures? Bumper stickers? How much for overhead?

And what is the percentage of the media buy that goes to the media buyer and 360? Many a naive campaign manager has unwittingly let smooth consulting firms get away with a much higher percentage than the going rate.

Not only are there lots of answers that should be provided to questions like these, there’s a clear need to see evidence of a real campaign to put education back in the hands of teachers who know far more about what today’s students need than do ideological politicians like Governor Otter and Superintendent Lunacy.

Chris Carlson is a former journalist and writer who lives in Medimont.

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