On July 12 the voters in the 48th Assembly District — covering the East side of Madison, Monona, McFarland and the Town of Dunn (map here)– will choose a Representative to the State Assembly to replace now County Executive Joe Parisi. The candidates are (alphabetical, linked to their web sites): Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.
I don’t live in the District, but like all progressives in the state, I have a stake in the race. Whoever is elected will be in a “safe seat” which means that they have the opportunity to do more than be a consistent vote; they can push the envelope by introducing and promoting significant progressive legislation, the kind of legislation that makes overly cautious party leaders uncomfortable. With the Republicans in charge, the rhetoric from the Democrats has been heartening, but it should not be forgotten that when they controlled the state from 2008-10 they did nothing to reform school funding except cut $300 million and raise the levy credit, did nothing on the minimum wage, failed to pass the Green Jobs bill, didn’t finish the Union contracts when they could, did much to little in progressive revenue reform…the list goes on. In this race I think people should look beyond opposing Walker to what kind of legislator the candidates will be when the Democrats are in control.There is no shortage in the legislature of “pragmatic progressives” who can find 1,000 reasons not to do the right things; there is a dire need for courageous leaders who will be steadfast in their advocacy both behind caucus doors and in public. Andy Heidt will be that kind of leader, that’s why he has my endorsement and why I’ve been helping with his campaign.
To back up this assertion (and as a service to AMPS readers and voters in the 48th), I’m offering a series of posts examining what the candidates have and have not said about education issues, especially the core issue of school finance, and to a lesser extent the related issues of revenue reform (based primarily on their websites and on internet searches). In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that I’m acquainted with three of the candidates and believe I have met at least three others and that some things that I know about them or impressions that have not appeared in campaign statements or biographies are part of the analysis. If anyone, including the campaigns has anything to add or dispute, please use the comments to bring it to my attention. This time the order is from who I consider the strongest to who I consider the weakest (Andy Heidt, Vicky Selkowe, , Bethany Ordaz, Fred Arnold Chris Taylor, Katherine Kocs and Dave de Felice — this may change as I do more research).
By my criteria, Andy Heidt is far and a way the best candidate. Throughout his campaign — beginning with his announcement (covered here by John Nichols) — he has done more than decry the actions of the GOP, he’s offered positive policy alternatives and pointed to the failure of other Democrats to enact these and other positive proposals. As Nichols put it:
Heidt’s argument that we must do more than merely prevent Walker from implementing his agenda. We must recognize that the crisis Walker is exploiting has its roots in the failure of Republican and Democratic administrations and legislators to recognize that Wisconsin cannot maintain services and public education if our politicians keep giving away tax breaks to multinational corporations and the wealthy.
Nowhere has this been clearer (or in my head more important) than in his statements on education funding. Heidt has issued one press release a “Keeping the Promise” plan (and here, scroll down) for school finance reform ((I helped draft the plan) and a short video.
In the press release, Heidt recognizes the importance of education and shows a “can do” spirit:
There are no more important investments than those we make in our children. They are the future and each generation has an obligation to provide the next with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. With a fair revenue system, there is no reason we cannot return to the Wisconsin tradition of supporting quality public education.
He also notes past cuts to education under the Democrats and the inadequacy of their recent counter-proposal to the Republican decimation of our schools. No other candidate has been explicit on this.
More importantly, no other candidate has offered anything like the detailed “Keeping the Promise” plan, nor the pledges to action contained in that plan.
“Keeping the Promise” has two parts. First it calls for “immediate action” to address the crises created by 18 years under a broken system, significant cuts in state funding in the 2009-11 budget and the recent Republican measures. These include enacting the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Penny for Kids proposal, expanding sales taxes, shifting the levy credits to the equalization formula, rolling back vouchers, fully funding SAGE, allowing for growth of the revenue limits based on CPI or the state GDP, taking the profit motive out of virtual schooling and reinstating educator union rights. The second part build on this by initiating comprehensive reform based on “based on the shared principles of the WAES Adequacy Plan the School Finance Network Plan and the 2007-2008 Assembly Joint Resolution 35.” These are (from AJR 35):
- “Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels.”
- “State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country.”
- “Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment.”
- A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income.
Heidt vows to “work tirelessly” to see that this reform is achieved prior to the next biennial budget cycle.
The sad history of AJR 35 (see here for AMPS posts covering that history)demonstrates the need for someone like Heidt in the Assembly. When the resolution was introduced, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Governorship, but not the Assembly. Over 60 legislators signed on and the promise of comprehensive school funding reform was part of the 2008 campaign to “Take Back the Assembly.” The Democrats did take back the Assembly and once they did AJR 35 and school funding reform disappeared. Gone. Silence. When some of us who wanted them to keep their promises spoke up, we were told to be quiet because speaking or acting on this difficult issue might jeopardize their electoral prospects in November 2010. I for one didn’t keep quiet, but I’m not taking the blame for the electoral failures of 2010. Instead I’ll offer an alternative analysis — it isn’t the people like me who called for action who are to blame, it is the legislators who didn’t act and didn’t want to be reminded of their failure to act (I said much the same well before the November 2010 elections). Many of those silent, silencing and inactive legislators are now supporting other candidates who share their priorities and outlook in the race for the 48th. I’m supporting Andy Heidt.
[Note — I originally conceived this as one long post, covering all the candidates, but that didn’t work out, so I’m doing a series. This is #1 of 7. — TJM]
Thomas J. Mertz