by Karen R. Effrem, MD
Although many factors are involved, an encouraging trend for parents and grassroots activists is emerging in this 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary season. Those candidates listening to parents by opposing Common Core and federal intrusion into education have defeated or are leading establishment, pro-Common Core candidates nearly across the board. Here are three of the most prominent examples:
In Georgia, Conservative Secretary of State Brian Kemp and moderate Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle emerged from a crowded and bruising seven-person primary with Cagle ahead by 13 percentage points. Cagle was far better funded than Kemp and had much establishment backing, including from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. The Georgia Chamber, as in other states and nationally, does not expend their considerable funds and influence on anti-Common Core candidates. Cagle was also believed to be a strong supporter of Common Core by activist groups in the state, for reasons such as his strong support for Jeb Bush during the 2016 presidential primary:
Casey Cagle’s long-time ‘Jeb connection’ is a serious red flag for Georgians who know that Jeb Bush has been the main PROMOTER & Propaganda Mill of Common Core from day-1.
— GA Stop Common Core (@StopCommonCoreG) June 23, 2018
Kemp is clearly against Common Core, as his own social media posts demonstrate as well as those of the state’s anti-Common Core activists. This position, combined with Cagle’s disdain for ordinary activists revealed in a conversation recorded by another candidate, and President Trump’s endorsement of Kemp, totally turned the tide. Kemp won by over 30 points.
As governor, I’ll end Common Core, expand school choice, and support our hardworking teachers. This campaign is about putting you – not the special interests or the status quo – first! #gapol #gafirst #tcot #maga pic.twitter.com/aKtgFzTRwq
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) July 13, 2018
In Minnesota, the establishment Republican candidate was former two-term governor and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Although he served from 2002 to 2010, Pawlenty almost lost the Republican endorsement in 2001 largely because he was on the wrong side of the revolt against federal education standards. Once in office, his tenure was hardly inspirational to the grassroots. While his administration was wise enough to reject the Common Core math standards and leave their Race to the Top application incomplete, they made the very unwise decision to adopt the Common Core English standards. This was especially unfortunate and unnecessary when the Race to the Top application had been abandoned and the legislature had explicitly rejected Common Core. In addition, Pawlenty’s administration pushed big government preschool and social emotional learning programs. He also was chairman of the Common Core developing National Governor’s Association and presented multiple times at the progressive Aspen Institute during and after his tenure, promoting things like cradle-to-grave P-16 councils.
Pawlenty’s opponent was former legislator, 2014 gubernatorial nominee, and current Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson. Johnson served in the legislature from 2001 to 2006 — not during the time of Common Core. He did vote several times against Minnesota’s federally imposed statewide Common Core precursor standards and then campaigned against Common Core in 2014. While not discussing the standards on his 2018 website, he has stressed parental control of education and criticized Pawlenty for partially adopting them in 2010.
Despite a major cash and name recognition advantage, endoresements the Chamber and other establishment figures, and a large advantage in the polls, Pawlenty lost to Johnson by a significant 8 percentage points, with education being one of many reasons why. President Trump did not endorse in the primary, but he has done so for the general in which Johnson will be facing Democrat Congressman Tim Walz, who has voted for ESSA and other major big government education programs.
The upcoming August 28th Republican primary in Florida features Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam — the pro-Common Core, establishment candidate — against anti-Common Core, anti-“fed ed” Congressman Ron DeSantis.
Putnam, after being elected to the state legislature at the age of 21, served in Congress from 2001 to 2009 before running for his current position. While in Congress, he voted for No Child Left Behind with its mandated statewide tests and impossible-to-meet adequate yearly progress that set the stage for Common Core and Race to the Top. He also voted for the 2007 (current) renewal of the Head Start Act that mandates the use of the “Baby Common Core” national curriculum standards in all Head Start and preschool programs across the country.
Putnam also openly supported Common Core when the state was implementing its infamous rebrand. At a 2013 conference during which Governor Scott’s administration pretended to care about parents’ opinions (but ultimately only changed the name), he said, “We’re going to push forward for what’s right for Florida, including implementing common core.” In that same speech, Putnam also managed to demean parents opposing Common Core:
Parents are of course experts on education because they went to school, right? It’s the same thing in the Legislature. The two things that everybody is an expert on: ethics and election issues, and education issues. Because they all got elected, and they all went to school somewhere. It’s a very dangerous thing. But parents are the same way. They think this is not what I did when I was your age, therefore, we’re trying to do too much.
Ron DeSantis, Putnam’s chief opponent, has been in Congress for three terms. He co-sponsored an anti-Common Core resolution in 2014 and wisely voted against ESSA that cemented the requirement for national “college and career ready” standards (i.e. Common Core) for another four years. He has also strongly opposed Common Core in speeches and interviews.
There is another candidate in the race, Bob White, who has taken a strong position against Common Core, but is far behind in funding, name recognition, and in the polls.
With nine days to go and despite Putnam’s initial cash advantage, Tallahassee establishment and big business endorsements, and early lead in the polls, DeSantis has now moved significantly ahead and is gaining significant momentum in funding and endorsements, including one from President Trump. While certainly not the most prominent issue, Common Core is still extremely important to Florida Republican primary voters. You can find a detailed comparison of all the candidates’ stances on the issue here.
All three Republican gubernatorial candidates with significant Common Core and federal education ties have lost or are behind in their primaries to strong anti-Common Core, sincerely pro-parent candidates. While the corporate moderates have done their best to rebrand and hide Common Core in “competency based education,” digital badges, the education-as-workforce preparation push, data mining, social emotional learning, etc., activists, especially parents and grandparents, are not fooled and are holding these purveyors of academic rot and loss of freedom accountable. Voters in states with upcoming primaries should do the same.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0