ASCENT FROM WUSSDOM

Sometime last November, Joe Bard, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (henceforth called PARSS) called me. He said that there was so much work to do about vouchers and charter schools that he wanted to have me come back and lobby on PARSS’ behalf. I asked if there was any money involved and he told me there wasn’t. I quickly agreed.
Joe has been at the forefront of telling me for 30 years that I give away my services too freely. Here was a chance for him to help me with that and he did not. Eventually, he told the PARSS board to give me 400 bucks a month and expenses. I was overjoyed.
I had not been lobbying since the year 2000. Since that time both the house and senate in Pennsylvania have pretty much turned over by 75%. It was not that I did not know some of the new people, but I had not bothered them on behalf of PARSS for almost twelve years.
My initial foray into my lobbying mode had me meeting the new members of the rural house members from rural areas. They are pretty much all R’s (a new way to refer to the political parties R’s and D’s). There are a few D’s but few and far between.
I began my nudging sometime in December and found some very disquieting things. During the cave days, the Democrats were the party of many opinions, fractures and caucuses. They appeared to always be disorganized and only at the most difficult of votes, did they vote as one party. The R’s on the other hand were always in step with their leadership. This is true even on the federal level. My first encounter with a legislator was very strange. He is close to being a Tea Party graduate. He is also very young, about twenty six or seven. He once worked for the leadership of the R’s and seemed to be pretty unhappy with what was going on.
He asked me a million questions. My plain answer to all of them was to ask those questions in his Republican Caucus. That was the trend with more of the rural R’s. They knew of me and PARSS and understood that we always advocated for rural education. We were not high paid lobbyists for either the suburbs or the cities.
Things came to a resounding climax in December of 2011. The Governor (the former Attorney General) had been pushing his version of a charter bill that would have made it easy for charter schools to start because it removed all local control over the creation and review of the charter school. He also wanted to have a voucher bill passed as soon as possible.
These two bills came down to a particular caucus meeting of the R’s. The meeting did not go well for the Governor. The guv had called a number of rural R’s and kind of threatened them with competition in the primaries. He no longer had the WAMs (walking around money) that governors had before him. In fact, as it happened, only one rural R was primaried out, as well as a number of Democrats.
The strange thing is that the D’s that lost and almost lost, had their opponents funded by essentially the same people who funded the losses and near losses on the R’s side. In a curious turn of events, the Speaker of the House, an R, was almost defeated. He lost in his home county and won in a neighboring county (by 340 votes).
Joe and I decided that we would attempt to see each and every rural R. As we began our travail, we encountered some interesting things. A group of moderate R’s had collected enough folks to begin a charter school bill that I am sure the Governor will not sign. Its aim is to present accountability and transparency in charter school operations.
As we speak, the charter schools double dip in retirement funding. The whole of special education is really screwed up for charter and cyber schools and is plainly making these profiteers a boatload of dough.
The overwhelming number of rural R’s understands that is what’s occurring. The more folks we visit, the more we hear how the Republicans in the House will not stand for it. There is even a rural R, who has begun a suit on school funding. He believes that his area, in the Poconos, has been screwed for at least twenty years. This is not the old way of doing things for the Republicans. They have always toed the line and gone along with the leadership and the Governor. Maybe they are now ascending from Wussdom, as they find that they have been taken advantage

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