Are you as troubled as I am by the increasing influx of so-called “dark money” into our state political races? Regardless of your political affiliation or personal views on important issues, the fact that wealthy out-of-state entities are targeting Oklahoma candidates with inaccurate and defamatory propaganda is unseemly.
A recent example of this intrusion is the smear campaign against Republican candidate for Oklahoma House District 69, Melissa Abdo. Melissa is pitted in a tight race against opponent Chuck Strohm for the Republican nomination. Since there is no Democrat opponent, the winner of next Tuesday’s runoff (August 26th) will take office in January.
With full disclosure, I am going to say up front that I am a big fan of Melissa Abdo. As the driving force behind the work of the Tulsa-area Parent Legislative Action Committee (PLAC), she has proven herself to be a fierce, unabashed advocate for public education. She has worked with thousands of other parents across the state to lobby on behalf of students and schools on numerous occasions at the Oklahoma Capitol. She is intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, passionate, and solution-centered.
Melissa is also a conservative Republican who believes in high academic standards for students, school accountability, and fiscal responsibility.
For these reasons, the latest mudslinging on the part of the Federation for Children Action Fund simply goes too far. In this organization’s latest campaign slime, they accuse Abdo of “surrounding herself with liberal lobbyists and special interests” and “supporting higher taxes and more government spending.”
In particular, the organization claims:
…She (Abdo) stood with big spending liberals and unions to oppose tax cuts and support new, excessive government spending that Oklahoma families cannot afford (by):
- Supporting higher property taxes
- Pushing for $150 million spending increase
- Encouraging people to attend a union rally in support of higher taxes and spending, and
- Opposing the Republican legislature’s tax cuts
The “evidence” that the Federation for Children uses to substantiate this absurd rhetoric includes Melissa’s Facebook posts on behalf on the Tulsa-area PLAC advertising the March 31 Education rally; an article in which Abdo voices her support of a school bond issue; a news story where Abdo calls for increased funding of public education; and a Tulsa People article where Abdo argues against a tax cut until appropriate funding for public education is restored.
So, let me get this right. If a person is in favor of adequately funding public schools, paying teachers a competitive wage, and maintaining quality school facilities, they are now classified a liberal? How have we gotten ourselves to this point? As Republicans, can we no longer be supportive of our nation’s system of public schools? To “qualify” as a true Republican, do we all have to give unconditional allegiance to the failed paradigm of accountability based on high stakes testing as well as absolute school choice? What has happened to the middle ground in our country?
I am proud to say I am a pro-public education advocate who is also a lifelong Republican. So is Melissa Abdo. To steal Janet’s words, I’ll be damned if I allow anyone to question the integrity or veracity of my beliefs and try to label me as something I am not. I served this nation as a Marine officer and apologize to no one for my unequivocal support of our public schools. Our schools have created the greatest wave of innovation in the history of mankind. To attempt to label all schools as failures and all teachers as “union” sycophants focused on preservation of the status quo is blatantly false. I will not sit by and watch good people be disparaged by right-wing extremists hellbent on the destruction of public schools for personal profit and as a means to reestablish a segregated system of “separate but equal” education.
But that’s just me.
But, while there is mud in the air, allow me to throw a few buckets of slime back to the source of this garbage: the Federation for Children Action Fund.
According to the online site Sourcewatch (HERE):
The American Federation for Children (AFC) is a conservative 501(c)(4) advocacy group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues. It is the 501(c)(4) arm of the 501(c)(3) non-profit group the Alliance for School Choice. Former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was charged with multiple crimes stemming from abuse of his office, is on staff at ASC as Senior Advisor to its Government Affairs Team.
In the organization’s own words, ASC is “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.”
AFC is an ALEC member and is represented by former Rep. Jensen on the ALEC Education Task Force. Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years (the charges were later reduced on appeal). Jensen is one of AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.
Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as “model” legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the “Education Savings Account Act,” which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary schools.
AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos (son of Amway founder Richard DeVos) and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.
In a brochure released after the 2012 elections, the AFC discussed how their campaign spending shaped electoral outcomes and consequent legislative support for school choice. The document reveals that Wisconsin campaigns received more money from AFC than those in any other state, reaching a total of $2,392,000 for the state out of the $7,165,150 national total spending.
In short, we have a group of wealthy Americans who seek to profit from the establishment of for-profit schools with selective enrollment policies and limited accountability. Schools that are focused on the bottom line rather than the needs of the students they are entrusted to support. Schools that will siphon off much-needed funding for Oklahoma public schools and result in further decay of our urban school systems and communities. We cannot allow this to happen.
I am glad to see that Melissa is not taking this latest political smear sitting down either. In a response published in today’s “The Okie” blog, Abdo fires back with her own response:
“Follow the money….sadly, this common phrase is all too often true. Washington D.C. funded special interest groups stand to make a lot of money by influencing state policy. They are spending tens of thousands of dollars lying about me, to sway support to the candidate who will represent their interests.” Abdo said.
“You can see from the groups’ ethics commission report that their organization is originally funded with one single $125,000 contribution.
Their charge that support for funding education reform for our students is the same as supporting a tax increase is absurd. I believe voters see through all of these outright lies and twisted truths that are thrown about in the final days of an election.
I am disappointed my opponent and the outside special interests supporting him have chosen the ‘politics as usual’ path instead of focusing directly on the many issues facing our state.
Just last week, Dr. Tom Coburn said ‘I believe how a person runs a campaign says a lot about how that person will govern in office.’ I agree with Dr. Coburn and think more people seeking office need to listen to his advice.”
Back on June 24th, state Republicans came together to remove a significant impediment to the improvement of our public school system. Our next state superintendent will need smart and courageous legislators who are willing and able to work with all stakeholders to initiate meaningful and effective school reform. We need people who are not chained to the ALEC or AFC playbook, but who will instead seek out the voice of their constituents. We need individuals who will work to adequately fund our public schools in order to provide all children with a high quality education, not just those born on the right side of the track.
In Oklahoma District 69 that person is Melissa Abdo. If we allow this kind of mud to stick this time, the outside interference in our state’s political process will only get worse. Remember to vote on August 26th.