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The Email Everyone’s Talking About – the Hanauer Blast on the Dems

Major Democratic Contributor 'Goes Ballistic' Over the Way Ed Reform has Been Stymied — One-Time Progressive Hero Denounced as Turncoat

Nick Hanauer.

UPDATE Feb. 21, 7 p.m. — And the fun continues! A running battle appears to be playing out on the PubliCola website.

After the Hanauer email surfaced last week, Washington Education Association president Mary Lindquist responded with an email that denounced Hanauer’s “threatening and bullying tactics,” and said that while Hanauer “has positioned himself as a progressive,” he has ”managed to align himself with a politician who is antithetical to all of those progressive values.” You can read it here.

So then Hanauer fired back with an email that said, “if [gubernatorial candidate Rob] McKenna and Republicans are wrong in some areas, it hardly excuses us Democrats from being wrong on school reform. Here at least, McKenna is on the right track, and we are not.” He chided WEA for supporting a bill that would weaken high school graduation requirements, and said, “The WEA’s efforts to stop any of the changes needed to transform our system puts you and the politicians who support and enable this intransigence on the wrong side of kids, families and history. I urge you to change course. You can be sure that I and other committed Democrats are urging the elected officials in our party to do so, with or without you.”

OLYMPIA, Feb. 17.—A blistering email from one of the biggest backers of Washington state’s “progressive” interests has been the talk of the statehouse and Washington political circles for days, cheered by some as the first honest appraisal of the party’s disinterest in education reform, denounced by others as a betrayal of the cause. And a one-time hero on the leftside suddenly is seen as no better than Newt.

Washington State Wire reproduces it here, in full.

In the now-notorious email, Nick Hanauer, prominent venture capitalist and president and founder of the League of Education Voters, takes the statehouse Ds to task for the way in which he says they have allowed the Washington Education Association to “strangle” education reform. He calls them ”stooges for the teachers’ union, the ringleader behind all this nonsense.”

What prompted it is the tepid support and outright opposition of Democratic leaders to a pair of education reform proposals backed by Hanauer’s group and a coalition of reformers in business and education advocacy organizations. In his note, Hanauer suggests the unthinkable. He might consider backing a Republican, Rob McKenna, for governor because Democrats “have ceded the issue and high moral ground to Republicans.”

The email, which circulated widely in progressive Democratic circles, surfaced Tuesday on Seattle’s PubliCola website and sparked much comment around the Capitol, where Hanauer’s big-money backing for Democratic candidates and progressive campaigns is well known. In 2010, for instance, he pumped $300,000 into the failed campaign for Initiative 1098, the high-earners income tax. In politics, of course, money talks.

And so it has been the buzz for days, says state Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, the House Republican lead on education. He even took a copy into one of the partisan closed-door sessions in the House. ”I got fined in our caucus for reading a quote from his letter, because it had a little profanity in it,” he says.

Proposals Run Into Buzzsaw 

It should be noted that one of the education reform proposals backed by Hanauer’s league actually did get somewhere. On Tuesday, a few hours after Hanauer’s email appeared on the Publicola site, the state Senate passed a teacher-evaluation bill that may make it easier for school districts to fire poor-performing teachers. For the first time, SB 5895 would require that student performance be included as a “factor” in teacher evaluations, and that the evaluations be used in determining who stays and who goes. It is an attack on union-seniority rules that dictate the last hired are the first to be fired.

But the “compromise” version that cleared the Senate Tuesday is significantly weakened from the original proposal, because it allows unions to bargain with districts over the weight that the evaluations will be given. It might be a watershed, said state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, or it might be “not worth the paper it is written on.”

Meanwhile, a charter-school proposal went nowhere. That one, which would allow public money to flow to public schools outside the K-12 system, met the same opposition from established K-12 interests that has greeted the idea over the last two decades. Some 41 other states now allow charter schools to be established, primarily as an alternative to failing public schools. House and Senate education chairs refused to allow a vote on the bills and they promptly died.

Good Riddance, Progressives Say

Gov. Christine Gregoire told reporters Tuesday that Hanauer spoke too soon. She said she respected Hanauer’s “passion,” but added, “I think he got out front of the legislative process. Today is an example. I think he thought the Legislature wasn’t going to do anything [on teacher evaluations], and in fact they came together today and they got something done.”

Dammeier, as might be expected, says he thinks Hanauer makes good sense. “It is a priority that is very important to him. He is one of many people who think we have got to deliver more for our students, and the fact that he was so blunt in his assessment and the fact that he is meeting with Rob McKenna just brings the issue forward. Everybody’s talking about it.”

The most interesting reaction has been the avalanche of comments that have appeared in the days since on the PubliCola website – which has a loyal readership among the state’s progressives. Among the hundred or so who typed in, Hanauer’s comments have been denounced as a threat from a man with too much money and ego. And the way many seem to see it, a one-time hero is now a bum.

Among the comments:

* “What an embassasing snit fit that letter is. He needs to get over himself.”

* “Hanauer also suffers from Newt Syndrome, which is better known as ‘I’m the smartest guy in the room and I won’t let you forget it.’ And when you live in an echo chamber of course you think you know all the answers.”

* “Perhaps it’s time for Hanauer to change political parties. Or take his investment-fund business and his family and change states. Sounds like everyone will be happier.”

* “Maybe Hanauer was a good progressive back in the day. Today, [he] shows himself as just another self-absorbed, self-entitled Mitt Romney Millionaire Master of the Universe who has the answers for the rest of us and is apparently pissed off that we Little People have a different viewpoint of how to add value to the public education system. One that doesn’t include handing over public assets to charters backed by the same venture capitalists that he pals around with. Hanauer a Patriot? LMAO. ‘Jerk’ fits the bill a whole lot better.”

* “If we could be rid of Hanauer and his pompous-ass attitude, not to mention his bitter and incorrect opinion of public education, I would happily have him close the checkbook. No problem. Better yet, join the Republican Party. Finance them! BFFs!!!”

The Email That Started it All

The version that appears below also includes an introductory note from Jabe Blumenthal, president of the board of directors of the advocacy group Climate Solutions. Blumenthal has a similar background: He was part of the design effort for the original version of Microsoft Excel. He left Microsoft in 1994 to teach math and physics at Lakeside School, where he was head of the science department until 2003. These days he is active in a variety of political and environmental causes, including global warming and lands conservation.


Subject: a thought provoking piece on education, Democrats, the governor’s race etc

Date: February 13, 2012 10:22:08 PM PST

From: Jabe Blumenthal

I thought you on the bcc list might find this of interest. I heard through the grapevine that Nick Hanauer – long-time champion of well-funded equitable public education and huge supporter of progressive politics – went, as he put it, “ballistic” at state Democratic leadership over the difficulty of getting even modest educational reform through Olympia. I asked him what was up and below is his response.

I share it not because I am a rabid educational reformer (I’m a pretty centrist reformer), not because education is my top issue (it’s my second at most), and not because I agree with everything Nick says (he’s a bit extreme and no force on earth will make me support McKenna). I share it because I totally get his frustration with “my side” for being on the wrong side, way more often than not, of education reform, for letting ourselves be held hostage by ultimately self-destructive teachers’ unions (it so pains my pro-labor heart to say), for ceding leadership on this issue to the “other side” (progressives should own this issue), and, finally, for losing lots of independent and progressive voters for whom education is their top issue. This has potentially disastrous consequences for not just education (which will never be adequately funded by the other side) but for all the other progressive issues that I care about.

I think it’s quite likely we’ll lose the gubernatorial race over this.

Anyway, read it. Interested to hear what you think.

If you have a similar reaction, take every opportunity to let our Democratic leadership know that they needn’t and mustn’t cede this issue – not to conservatives, not to teachers’ unions – and to support [Eric] Pettigrew, et. al. for their willingness to lead. And, not that his ego needs it J, if you are grateful, as I am, that Nick is rocking the boat here, let him know.


From: Nick Hanauer

Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 2:30 PM

To: Jabe Blumenthal

Subject: Re: your take on educational reform in Olympia


I did indeed go ballistic. I am despondent over my political party’s intransigence on the most important issue in the state — public education reform.

I have seen the enemy, and it is us.

It is impossible to escape the painful reality that we Democrats are now on the wrong side of every important education reform issue.

We oppose charter schools. We oppose higher standards for kids. We oppose high standards for teachers. We oppose employmentpolicies based on capability and teaching quality. We oppose accountability in all its forms. We oppose competition in any form. We basically have come to the view that anything that isn’t about equity- like excellence or quality- is bad. We cling to the status quo while we fail the most vulnerable year after year. We resist change and innovation. We prioritize the needs of adults over the interests of children. Washington State is now known as a reform backwater, a joke. Even the Gates Foundation has all but given up hope on our state.

As far as I can tell, the only people in the whole party willing to try to do the right thing are Pettigrew, [Rodney] Tom, [Ross] Hunter and [Steve] Hobbs.

There can be no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind that the leadership of our party and most of its elected members are stooges for the teachers union, the ring leader in all of this nonsense.

I want to say that I am a huge supporter of unions.

Three and a half years of research for my last book on understanding economies eco-systemically has proved to me that capitalism shouldn’t just tolerate unions, it requires them for survival. Unions are essential for prosperity because they balance the interests of capitalists and provide increasing wages for workers, which creates a virtuous cycle of increasing demand, increasing employment and increasing demand. This is why all prosperous capitalist societies are unionized and why economies that are not unionized tend to be poor. This is why the post war years boomed and why we are now in a death spiral of ever decreasing demand.

But in the same way that unchecked power for capitalists will destroy an economy, so too will the unchecked power of unions. This is because the work rules and constraints that unions place on the institutions they inhabit, decrease the ability of those institutions’ ability to adapt to changing needs. Each new well meaning worker protection makes it less likely that the institution will survive. Today, the WEA is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence.

Workers deserve fair wages and reasonable protections. But 90% of what is in most teacher contracts is self-destructive bullshit designed to protect the adults with the most seniority and the least ability in the system. And everyone knows this. Even other union leaders in private will admit that the teachers make all unions look bad because they are so obviously counter-productive and self interested.

I have been a lifelong Democrat because I believe that in general, our approach to policy is more likely to make the country better for most people than the Republican law of the jungle approach. But in Washington State, after 28 years in power with almost nothing to show for it, it is time to reckon with ourselves on what we stand for.

I am a democrat, but first, I am an American and a patriot. The primary business and paramount duty of the state is to educate our kids. We are failing and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I am not a big fan of Rob McKenna, but there can be no doubt that the positions he is taking on public ed are crisper and more aligned with my thinking than any democratic leader in our state. I believe that most citizens in Washington will agree. One of the greatest travesties here is the way in which Democrats have ceded the issue and high moral ground to Republicans.

I have a private meeting set up with McKenna for later this month to discuss these issues.

I have to believe I’ll find him more compelling than my Democrat friends.

I know this is harsh, but I think it is time for reasonable and honest progressive leaders like you and I and all of our peers to reassess where we stand and who we support. I think we need to have a larger conversation with that group of donors and leaders. I believe that we mostly agree that making the country better is more important than party affiliation.

Looking forward to your thoughts. Feel free to share this with the gang.

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