As someone who has been chronicling and documenting the GOP’s unending penchant for never blowing an opportunity to blow an opportunity for over two decades now, even I was stunned and incredulous at how Nevada Assembly Republicans unbelievably tanked a slam-dunk opportunity Friday night.
Let’s set the stage…
1.) There is no issue of greater import facing Nevada’s Legislature than education. Period. You fix the education mess we have and so many other problems fix themselves, including economic and crime.
2.) You don’t fix the education problem by throwing more money down the rathole. The only way to improve education on a massive scale is to give parents far more choices that do not involve the anti-education teachers union.
3.) The Nevada Legislature is controlled by Democrats in both the upper and lower house; therefore, passing any true education reform proposal that includes greater parental choice without costing more money would be a rare, rare, rare, rare, rare opportunity in this political climate.
4.) The concept of “parent trigger” – in which the worst failure factory government schools can be converted into a union-free charter school if a majority of parents vote to do so – is perhaps the hottest true education reform idea on the planet. So hot, in fact, that Hollywood actually made a movie about it last fall – Won’t Back Down starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter.
5.) Surprisingly enough, the parent trigger revolution started in left-wing California and is supported by some leading Democrats, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
6.) Not surprisingly, parent triggers are supported by just about every known conservative on Planet Earth and throughout the rest of the galaxy. I mean, this one is a bona fide, USDA, grade A…NO BRAINER!
So the opportunity to pass a parent trigger law in Nevada in both Democrat-controlled houses of the Legislature and have it signed by the governor is probably the ONLY conservative opportunity to do something significant and positive for education (or anything else) in this session.
To be honest, however, I had no idea a parent trigger bill was even alive until Saturday morning…when it was already too late.
Indeed, the only mention of a trigger bill I ever heard for this session was when Sen. Moderate Mike Roberson (RINO-Monte Miller) called me last August trying to peddle his $25 million plan to hire more teachers union members to teach English to a lot of students who are here in the country illegally. I guess he thought he might be able to buy my support for his ELL program with support for a parent trigger law.
In any event, if Moderate Mike ever did introduce his trigger law, I sure didn’t hear about it…and would have assumed it was killed by Senate Democrats like just about every other bill the severely disliked and immensely untrustworthy legislator has proposed.
But unbeknownst to me (and, it appears, just about everyone else in the state, including members of the state Assembly), a separate parent trigger bill (SB311) not only had been introduced by freshman Sen. Aaron Ford (D-Las Vega) but was passed 21-0 in the Senate on April 23rd.
And believe it or not, this was a BAD sign for some Assembly Republicans!
You see, not only is there natural friction and suspicion between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, there’s also similar apprehension by Assembly Republicans of anything Moderate Mike and his Dirty Half-Dozen Gang of Republicans in the Senate vote for…especially after Roberson & Gang proposed that whopping $600 million tax hike on mining a few weeks ago.
No one, and I mean no one, trusts Michael Roberson. Not even, I’ve been told, his Dirty Half-Dozen Gang members.
But back to the story…
According to the legislative digest, SB311 would authorize “the parents and legal guardians of pupils enrolled in an underperforming public school, under certain circumstances, to submit a petition for the conversion of the school to an empowerment school or the conversion of an empowerment school to a charter school.”
In other words, passage of this bill would give parents of children stuck in the worst of the worst government-owned/union-operated public schools a lifeline; the ability to dramatically change the operation of their kids’ crappy school, whether the education establishment or the union liked it or not.
After passing unanimously in the Senate, SB311 came before the Assembly Education Committee a couple weeks ago. During discussion, Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner (R-Washoe) raised a point that in other parts of Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) it has prohibited using public school buildings for charter schools and said this was a major problem.
No it wasn’t.
First, when it comes to NRS, the Legislature has God-like powers. It can do pretty much whatever it wants. And if it wanted to make an exception of converting an existing regular school to a charter school, it can do it.
But even more importantly, I’ve been told that Committee Chairman Elliot Anderson (D-Las Vegas) read into the record a clear and unambiguous statement that it was the intent of the Legislature to allow conversions to charter schools under this law and any conflicts could easily be cleaned up in language down the road.
And by the way, I know from first-hand experience – thanks to being sued by Secretary of State Ross Miller – that statements declaring the “intent” of the Legislature are given GREAT weight by the courts in case of a lawsuit or other conflict.
But even so, Kirner’s concern in NO WAY should have been a reason for ANY Republican not to vote for this bill. Approve it, establish the precedent…and if there’s any bump in the road down the road worry about it down the road, right? I mean, if Democrats were willing to pass a parent trigger bill, why would any Republican try to stand in their way over what amounted to a senseless technicality?
In the end, Kirner’s silly objection was rejected and the bill passed out of committee and went to the full floor of the Assembly last Friday night…
Where it was summarily killed…by REPUBLICANS!
This is just sickening.
In the floor debate, conservative freshman Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, one of the four Republicans on the Education Committee, spoke in favor of the bill. Two of the other Republicans on the committee – Assemblyman Lynn “Bug Man” Stewart and Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, both public school teachers – said nothing.
But then Kirner opened his mouth.
Not satisfied with having his petty concern shot down in committee, Kirner reportedly stood up and again complained that the bill was in conflict with other portions of NRS over the use of public school buildings for charter schools and urged rejection of the bill.
Now here’s the problem…
Legislators have this bad habit of voting for bills without reading them, let alone understanding them. As such, they tend to follow the lead of their colleagues who sit on the committees which actually hear the bill and the arguments for and against its passage.
So Republicans trusted Kirner and followed his lead…right off the cliff!
When all was said and done, only five Republicans – Fiore, Woodbury, Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, Assemblyman Wes Duncan and Assemblyman James Oscarson of Pahrump – voted with 12 Democrats in favor of the bill. As such, the bill was killed 17-24.
This is absolutely a bill that every single Republican – conservative, moderate or liberal – should have voted for, just as Republicans in the Senate did. And had they, this super-important parent trigger bill would have passed 28-13 in the Assembly and be on its way to the governor for his signature this very day.
Instead, Kirner stupidly led his colleagues – who voted against the bill without reading or understanding it – astray, thereby not only blowing the single-most important conservative opportunity of the 2013 legislative session, but screwing thousands of Nevada children trapped in crappy schools who might otherwise have had a brighter future.
And for good measure, sticking it in the eye of the evil teachers union.
As blown opportunities go, this one was a real doozy.
Naturally, there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on right now among Republicans in the Assembly. Some blame a lack of leadership on Hickey’s part. Others blame supporters of the bill for not educating or lobbying Republicans on it beforehand. Others blame Woodbury and Stewart for not speaking up and rebutting Kirner on the floor.
But as far as I can tell, this monumental fuster-cluck/missed opportunity falls squarely on the shoulders of Assemblyman Kirner, who should have heeded the age-old wisdom that it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Sorry, kids. We regret to inform you that even this small glimmer of hope has been dashed by the political organization appropriately nick-named the Stupid Party of Nevada. We now return you to the teachers union.