Friday, November 2, 2012

Can You Stand Some Actual, Personal Insights about (gah!) the Elections?

I've been contemplating writing this blog for a while. Most people who know me know how I stand on the issues and the candidates, but perhaps there are a few souls out there who still haven't decided and wish someone with some common sense and nothing to gain would step up and give some intelligent reasons for voting one way or another. Well, your prayers have been answered. Here I am. I am intelligent. I have thought through these issues. I don't listen to the spin. I understand the long term, and I tend to vote for reasons other than my pocketbook. I tend to vote for people and propositions that will make life better not just for me, but mostly for people who do not have the luck to be comfortable financially the way my family has. So here are the how's and why's of my vote on candidates and issues that I feel are important. Pass it on if you think it will help someone decide. Even if they decide to vote the opposite of me. (I'm used to that.)

I'm going to start with issues affecting Idaho first. If you don't live in Idaho but you love politics, you could read this. Otherwise, skip down. The Luna laws, as I call them, were passed last year and are currently in effect. (Notice any improvement? Me neither.) These laws are on the ballot to be repealed, otherwise known as Props 1, 2, and 3. Both sides of this issue have spent more campaigning about this than any other election in Idaho politics. It's obviously a hot button topic. Basically, Tom Luna, our superintendent of public schools, whose campaign was funded heavily by online curricula producers, came out with this batch of laws during the last legislative session. He called them students come first laws. I call them stupid.

The spin on this has been heavy from both sides. The supporters claim that it's just the union bosses (teachers' unions) that are against these laws. First, that's not true. I don't belong to any union, and I have protested in the freezing cold of January against these laws. Basically, they fall into a few categories. Here are the parts I know and understand: The law will require that all high school students take a certain number of credits online. (Hmmm, and who funded Luna's campaign?) While I am not against online education--in fact all of my children have taken several online classes in high school and college--I am not in favor of requiring it. Nor am I in favor of the state giving out laptops to all students. That's a recipe for all kinds of disasters. And expenses. Usually I'm all for putting as much money as possible into education, but this is just a waste of money. This week, we found out the state has signed a contract with HP for the laptops--arguably the worst laptops on the market. If this is their idea of smart investment of the wasted money, then that's reason enough in my book to vote against it. But the real issue is this: are all students going to learn best this way? Luna wouldn't know, as he never asked for input from teachers/parents/students, nor has he ever worked in the education field, so he's just taking a shot in the dark, and missing the target, which is to help students. He claims our schools need to enter the 21st century, but if he spent ANY time there, he would see they already are.

Another piece of the Luna laws has to do with merit pay for teachers. While the concept of merit pay sounds nice--I want all teachers who are doing great to be acknowledged and rewarded--this version of merit pay does not receive support even from the best teachers (especially the best teachers). Why? First, most teachers have experienced sharp cuts in pay over the last few years, because our legislature doesn't value education. (My own spin, but I think it's pretty accurate.) Now, they are told, they have to earn it back as a "bonus." And that's not all. It's not based on individual teachers and how good they are. It's based on how well a whole school full of students performs on tests. I'm not a fan of standardized testing (which will have to be a conversation reserved for another time), but even if I were, it's not a way to determine merit pay. Often, the best teachers are working in schools with low income/minority students, who traditionally perform the worst on standardized tests, and thus those teachers wouldn't get their merit pay. Stupid, if you ask me (which you did, remember, in your prayers?).

Another piece is very complicated and I probably won't do it justice here. But it has to do with collective bargaining. I had to have some teachers who have experience in negotiating teacher contracts explain this to me. Here's a summary: Every year, teachers have to negotiate the next year's contract with their school boards. This isn't a bad thing. It's a long process, but in most cases an amicable one. I mean, after all, the school board and the teachers should have the same goals. (Ideally.) Before the Luna laws, there were certain parts of the giant contracts (try reading one sometime!) that the school boards and the teachers could agree would just be collectively okayed, because it was stuff they knew would not be an issue. The Luna laws took that away, essentially forcing everyone to spend more time on working out contracts, rather than teaching students.

The ads I've heard in support of Props 1, 2, and 3 make it sound like a utopia in which happy teachers will be teaching happy students. But that's not what you'll find if you go into schools. You'll find demoralized teachers. Many of the best ones have left the profession since these laws passed. The online requirements? There won't even be a teacher in the room, just an aide to monitor the kids and help with technical issues. A babysitter.

The Boise School Board, which administers the best schools in the state, and includes several nationally ranked public high schools, is against these propositions. Because, as educators and parents, they understand these ideas are bad education policy.

One more thing about Luna. When he ran for office the first time, he had no experience in education, nor even a Bachelor's degree. He got a fly-by-night degree in order to run. When he ran for re-election, he never mentioned these laws, never suggested he had some "reform" in mind, which I think was unethical and dishonest to the voters of Idaho.

It's not just the union that doesn't want these laws. Almost everyone I talk to who understands the educational system is against Props 1, 2, and 3. I am an outspoken critic of the public education system, while at the same time I support and love the magnificent, difficult, and thankless work of the teachers who spend their lives working with our kids. They are awesome. And so I will vote NO on Prop 1, 2, 3.

Next, I'd like to address the congressional race between Mike Simpson, the long-time incumbent in my district, and Nichole LeFavour, who worked in the Idaho legislature for many years for my district 19. Many people tend to vote for the incumbent, just because it's a familiar name. And a lot of people don't think of Mike Simpson as a bad guy. Not even me. I don't like most of his positions and his votes, but I don't usually think of him as an outright liar and unethical person (as I do with Romney, but I digress). However, Nicole LeFavour is SO MUCH MORE than Mike Simpson. She works so hard to bring justice to those who have no other voice: the disabled, the uninsured, the minorities, the poor. She supports education, families, and a strong economy. She even says she will vote for ideas that she think are good, even if they come from the other party. How refreshing is that? Nicole has campaigned hard, and a lot of people think her chances in the  election are slim. But during debates, Mike Simpson was patronizing toward her, even rude. He acts as if he doesn't have to treat her with respect merely because he thinks he has the election wrapped up and delivered. I don't like it when people act that way. He's been a jerk, plain and simple. Nicole is a person of integrity, respect, and common sense. Even when she was ignored and voted against most of the time in the Idaho legislature, she did not lash out, become mean, or lose her temper. She treated her fellow representatives and senators with respect. That is something I think we need more of in politics today. It used to be there, but the polarization and deep rifts in political extremes have erased that. Nicole will help bring it back.

Before I move on to the presidential vote, I want to mention something I just heard was on the ballot this week. It's a constitutional amendment in Idaho that purports to protect the rights of hunters, fishermen, and other sportsmen in Idaho. I have nothing against these activities. However, I don't think they need constitutional protection in Idaho. I mean, it's Idaho, people. There will always be hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation. We should probably be more worried about the natural resources that allow for those activities being destroyed. So I'm going to vote NO on that. Not because I hate hunters. I don't.

Now onto the presidential election, which is pretty much a moot point by now. But I'll have my say anyhow. First of all, if you vote based on what the candidate promises to do and you actually expect him/her to get that all done, you're an idiot. Since when has a political candidate been able to achieve and give you everything they promised? A president especially. They have to wrangle with Congress over everything, so there will be some things that don't get finished. That said, you should look at the records of the candidates. Obama inherited the worst deficit ever, created entirely by the Bush administration. (We had a surplus under Clinton.) While he doesn't claim this as an excuse, I do. And we have come pretty far since then. The economy was tanking as Obama became president. And now it is recovering. So if you're going to vote based on the economy, you should vote for him. Romney likes to pretend he can fix the economy, but he hasn't offered any specifics, and even the state where he served as governor doesn't want him. But the economy is a useless measure when voting for the president, as far as I am concerned. There are so many other factors that impact the economy that he has no control over, it seems ridiculous to me that so many people use that as their primary measure of presidential success. Economies will do what economies do, and the way I understand it, the president can try to make policies that will help it, policies that will encourage job creation, but in the long run, the president does not control the economy.

So look at the voting records of the candidates. Look at the way they work. Look at the parties endorsing them. If I were a republican right now, I would be running so far away from them, I might exceed the speed of sound. It's a damaged party. There are too many fractions, too many extremists, and too many people who believe in legislating their religion onto others. And Romney spent the entire primary season trying to appease those nut jobs. Now that he won the primaries, he has reverted back to what he used to say. So what to believe? Who knows? Romney will look you in the eye and tell you that something he said yesterday he never said. Even if he looked you in the eye yesterday and said it to you. He will say anything that will get him elected. I find this terrifying. Regardless of his policies or party. Anyone who will say anything that will get them elected is scary. And unethical. (Sense a theme, here? I would love to see more ethical behavior in politics. Don't laugh. It can be done. We have the power of the vote, and we can vote for ethical people, so it's really on us.) Romney makes up things. Doesn't have specifics. Implemented Obamacare in his own state, and now claims it's horrible. I don't think he really knows what he's doing. And apparently none of his constituents from Mass do either, because nobody there wants him to be president. Hmmm. Curious.

The stories about Romney's incompetence abound, but here's one from the disaster of Sandy this week. Romney wanted to look good, so he was in Ohio (where the disaster didn't impact anyone) collecting food and emergency supplies. They didn't get enough donations, so his staff went out and bought some stuff. Good for them. But they didn't buy it just to fill the trucks. He's just not that nice. When people came to help, they were given some of the items to "donate" so Romney would look good to the media. It's all show with him. Not genuine caring.

What I'd really love to see is all those republicans in the house and senate, now that they have no more need to vote against Obama to make him a one-term president, actually spend the next four years trying to work with Obama and each other to actually accomplish stuff that will make life in the U.S. better for everyone, especially those who need it the most (meaning everyone but the 1%).

So that's how I plan to vote. I encourage everyone reading this to vote--according to your own beliefs and values. It is the most precious right we have. And you have no grounds to complain if you don't vote.

I also encourage commentary and discussion here, but I require that it be kept civil. And if you are going to spout an opinion, you better be able to back it up. Don't just repeat lies. Prove what you say, and have a nice discussion.