Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What did they do in South Carolina?

Another internet search turned up some information about All Children Matter of Michigan operating in South Carolina. A newspaper editor there, writing on June 22 about a local politician, dug out an article he wrote in 2004 about a state Senate campaign and who was funding it. Editor Brad Warthen of The State newspaper has his own blog and explains ACM's activities in his state there (http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/2007/06/you-want-someth.html).

You want something to criticize Ken Wingate for, Democrats and other knee-jerk critics? How about his promise to denounce the extremist out-of-state group All Children Matter if it got involved with his campaign to unseat Sen. Joel Lourie, which he then failed to keep? This was a great disappointment to me, because all other dealings I had had with Mr. Wingate gave me the impression that he was a man to keep such a promise. Here's why I wrote about it at the time:

Published on: 10/31/2004

THE S.C. SENATE District 22 race is not about Ken Wingate and Joel Lourie any more. That's because an out-of-state group with an extreme agenda has dumped what looks like more than $100,000 into the race in the last week. (That's $80,000 we know about in TV ads, plus a couple of mailings that likely cost more than $10,000 each.) Even when it was just between Mr. Wingate and Mr. Lourie, two men I'd known and respected for some time, I had already made up my mind that I preferred Joel Lourie. So had our editorial board. We had good things to say about Mr. Wingate, but had to go with Mr. Lourie's stellar record. Also, while we thought Mr. Wingate might be OK on education, we knew Mr. Lourie would be one of the Senate's staunchest advocates for schools.

Mr. Wingate has good things to say about his support of schools, but also has a disturbing affinity for the "choice" movement. That, combined with his close association with Gov. Mark Sanford - for whom "choice" is the only kind of education reform - gave us pause.

It also attracted the support of the Michigan-based All Children Matter.

Here, particularly, is the part of Mr. Warthen's article that caught my eye, enough that I re-read it a couple of times and thought he could be writing about what's going on in Utah right now.

This group doesn't care about Ken Wingate or Joel Lourie or you or me or any of the people of South Carolina. It cares only about advancing its agenda.

And since it doesn't mention its agenda in its ads (for the good reason that it is unpopular), I'll define it: Advancing a national movement away from the notion that states have a responsibility to provide good, accountable public schools.

In South Carolina, the group backs the governor's proposal to take money that would otherwise go to run public schools and use it to pay some parents to send their kids to private schools.

It doesn't want to do this through open debate, because it would lose.

Instead, the group uses stealth tactics in an attempt to stack the Legislature with people who will do its bidding. It believes, with good reason, that Mr. Wingate will be more malleable to its purpose. By contrast, there is probably no one running for legislative office this year who is less likely to do this Orwellian-named group's bidding than Joel Lourie.

It doesn't matter to All Children Matter that few Senate districts in South Carolina are more supportive of public education than District 22 (and with good reason, given the excellence of the schools in the district). That just gives the group more motivation to talk about something other than its real agenda in its ads.

But the next point was a mystery to me, why a politician would first say he'd "denounce" ACM if it interfered in his race -- even in his favor -- but then changing his mind when ACM did get involved.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Wingate told me that if All Children Matter weighed into this race, he would denounce it. He now refuses to do so, using the Clintonian logic that since All Children Matter has a South Carolina presence, this does not constitute an incursion by outsiders.

Yet the group had two South Carolinians representing it before he made his promise. I asked him if he had any evidence demonstrating that "All Children Matter of South Carolina" today consists of anything more than a Post Office box and the two individuals he and I both knew were involved before. "I am under the impression that there is more of a presence than that," he said. "I'm not going to start reeling off names."

But set that aside, because this is no longer about Ken Wingate and Joel Lourie. It's about whether the voters of District 22 will be persuaded to go along with a group that would undermine their public schools.

Mr. Lourie believes that if that happens, it will not only mean his defeat. It will be a huge boost for the narrow agenda of All Children Matter. If it can use its money to defeat one of the strongest advocate of public schools in one of the most pro-school districts in the state, it will intimidate the rest of the Legislature into supporting it.

I'm afraid he's right. And for the sake of the rest of South Carolina, I sincerely hope the people of District 22 won't let that happen.

His description is so eerily similar to what's going on here that you could replace "South Carolina" with "Utah" and change the candidates' names, and it could be published in the Trib.

Continuing his analysis just less than two months ago, Mr. Warthen added this footnote in his blog: "All Children Matter is a part of the anti-public school movement that we've seen manifested in other groups, such as SCRG and CIA. There's a pattern -- driven and funded from out of state, highly ideological, striving to remake our Legislature in its image, and misleading about intentions when it does get involved in the electoral process. These groups have a much greater potential to harm South Carolinians, black and white, than the League of the South could in a thousand years. They are determined, they are well-financed, and they strike at the very heart of our state's greatest hope for the future."

Knowing what I know now, this affirms what I concluded on Friday, that these people in Michigan picked Utah because they consider us a small and cheap state where they can run a voucher plan through the legislature, past Utah voters, and then use their victory to build momentum for campaigns in bigger states. It's a national campaign, not just an idea that grew from Utah voters or lawmakers.

Mr. Warthen concluded the same thing about what ACM is doing in South Carolina -- is it another small, cheap state? And the writers at the Turner Report have uncovered the same pattern in Missouri -- is it another small, cheap state, too?

But this web connecting Michigan money to voucher campaigns in Texas, Missouri and South Carolina isn't all that I found online this weekend. In Ohio, ACM has run into legal trouble because Ohio's campaign laws prohibit some of the kinds of transfers of money between political action committees that ACM has gotten away with in smaller, cheaper states. Right now, ACM is working to get itself out of hot water there.