Friday, April 16, 2010

Sliding Left, The Governor Does Right

Two cheers for Charlie Crist!

It would be three cheers, except that Crist's days as a Republican seem to be numbered, anyway. The New York Times reports that the Florida governor, locked in a battle he's losing for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, vetoed on Thursday a bill which would have eliminated tenure for public school teachers and based "renewal of teacher contracts and at least half their raises on how well students did on standardized tests."

Although the bill was, not surprisingly, supported by the state Department of Education and statewide business groups and opposed by the state teachers' union, Governor Crist contended there also was "incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators." (This runs counter to the common cry of politicians that they are taking the "politically unpopular" action, thus staking a claim to boldness.)

Crist, a very popular governor when times were good in Florida, is a "moderate Republican" who has been badly trailing the hard-right Marco Rubio in the polls. While speculation abounds that Crist will choose to run in the primary as an independent, April 30 is the deadline for switching parties and the Times' reporters suggest it is uncertain how the veto will play in the GOP contest.

This is not going way out on the limb: not well. In fact, probably quite poorly. Crist may do the honorable, courageous thing and fight as a Republican for principles unpopular in his party, but impending defeat has a way of focusing the mind.

The governor's veto, however it may play out politically by November, was the right move programatically. In what may be the year's most "politically incorrect" remark, a teacher at a rally on Monday declared "I am not a puppet master; I can’t pull strings and make them perform. I can’t even make them come to school."

Imagine that- some students in some school districts at some times are actually somewhat responsible for their own learning. It is, it would appear, a novel concept; the idea that it is not only teachers, the union, society, the school board, parents, and politicians who bear responsibility, but even the students themselves. This is a dangerous point to make, likely to inconvenience those adults who are frightened by young students and afraid to hold them at all accountable.

Charlie Crist's veto of a bad bill may prove to have been merely opportunistic. But for now, in the age of thoughtless anti-government rhetoric and Tea Party mania, let's celebrate a politician doing the right thing, for whatever reason.

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