State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson paid a late visit to Davis on Thursday to rally the troops. Earlier in the day he had received the bad news that his race is tied against challenger, and fellow Democrat, Marshall Tuck.
The race is a study of contrasts, as Mr. Torlakson is backed by the teachers, liberal Democrats and union households – in other words the traditional educational establishment. Marshall Tuck is backed by Wal-Mart, Republicans, and forces that Mr. Torlakson claims are on the side of privatization.
Yolo County Democratic Central Committee Chair Bob Schelen explained that they want to destroy public education – that Marshall Tuck “wants to make education private and for profit.”
However, diving down into the poll is something that should trouble Democrats very much – Marshall Tuck leads among all non-white groups including, most significantly, a “33-20 percent margin among Latinos.”
Then you have Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson who recently praised Marshall Tuck. Writes Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain, “He’s also the latest embodiment of what Democratic leaders should fear, a wedge between their most influential donor, the California Teachers Association, and their most loyal voters, African Americans, Latinos and Asians.”
Dan Morain’s column, “When will school reform become a wedge issue for Democrats?” explores the interesting development – the divide between Democrats like Tom Torlakson, backed by the powerful teachers union, and those like Kevin Johnson and Marshall Tuck, opposing the union and seeming to join common causes with those on the right.
With Democrats likely to sweep the partisan statewide races and a non-existent campaign for governor against strong incumbent Jerry Brown, the “Torlakson-Tuck race will cost more than any candidate contest in California in 2014, $30 million and counting. That’s three times the sum being spent in the gubernatorial race between Jerry Brown and his Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari.”
Mr. Morain notes that the CTA has spent $11.2 million on Mr. Torlakson on independent expenditures. “Advocates pushing for changes in public education see an opportunity to exchange a union-backed candidate for one who embraces charter schools. They’ve spent $10 million on Tuck’s behalf.”
Writes Mr. Morain: “You might not know it from the frenzy of anti-Tuck ads, but Tuck is a Democrat, like Torlakson. Tuck doesn’t question the need for public education. His mother was a teacher. But he does support the notion of charter schools and the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.
“The Vergara plaintiffs, public school students, are challenging union-backed teacher seniority rules that result in young teachers, who tend to work in the toughest schools, losing their jobs first when the economy sours. Torlakson sided with the union and is appealing the ruling. Tuck promises to drop the suit, though that decision would not rest entirely with him if he were to win on Tuesday.
“In reality, the superintendent doesn’t have vast power. The State Board of Education, made up of appointees of the governor, makes many decisions about schools.
“The California Teachers Association has controlled the superintendent’s office for years. A Tuck victory would embarrass the union and could embolden other Democrats to challenge the union’s primacy.”
Mr. Morain closes his column quoting Mayor Johnson, “In today’s society, you have far too many kids whose future is decided by the neighborhood where they live and the color of their skin.”
He then writes, “On Tuesday and for years to come, Democrats will retain control of California politics. Public school unions will be fundamental to Democrats’ success. But there will be a cost. Teachers unions have not been a force for change for the better. That’s fine in El Dorado Hills and Davis, where schools work. It’s a problem in inner cities. The question is when, not whether, that divide will become a problem for the Democratic Party.”
Mr. Morain doesn’t really answer the question about the wedge issue and he doesn’t explore the countervailing force here – the Republican Party. In the last two decades non-whites have moved away, not toward, the Republican Party.
Prior to 1994, Hispanics largely split their vote and Asians had largely voted with a slight lean toward Republicans. Mark DiCamillo, the Director of the Field Poll, wrote in November of 2012 that the exit polls in California “showed the President winning among California’s Latinos by 45 points, Asian Americans by 58 points and African Americans by 93 points.”
1994 marked a critical turning point in California, and the Field Poll has “allocated 300-400 additional interviews among Chinese American, Vietnamese American, Korean American, and sometimes Filipino Americans, to obtain a more detailed accounting of the polyglot of voters that comprise California’s Asian American electorate.
“When combined with the poll’s Latino and African American samples, these multi-ethnic surveys help explain the factors pushing them more to the Democratic column.”
Mr. DiCamillo noted that the first explanation “relates to what should be done about the approximately 2.5 million illegal or undocumented immigrants currently living in California. Large majorities of the state’s voters, including 85 percent of Latinos, view this as a salient issue and support government policies that would provide these residents with a path to citizenship.”
That said, “While the issue of immigration usually comes to mind first in discussion about ethnic voters, if I had to cite one area that best explains why ethnic voter support for Democratic candidates is growing, it would relate to their view of the role of government.
“The network exit poll showed California’s white non-Hispanics evenly divided about whether the government should do more to solve the nation’s problems or whether it was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. By contrast, ethnic voters believed that government should be doing more nearly two to one.”
While Mr. Torlakson is charging that Mr. Tuck is in favor of privatization of education, Mr. Morain notes that this simply isn’t true. Again, he writes that “Tuck doesn’t question the need for public education. His mother was a teacher. But he does support the notion of charter schools and the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.”
Naturally, the educational establishment views this as an attack on their province and are throwing mega-bucks to thwart the uprising. However, despite the divide, it seems unlikely, giving the current alignment of the Republicans, that this will become a wedge issue.
The Democrats under the New Deal coalition survived huge rifts for decades before the barriers became too great to overcome. Republicans nationally have a divide between the activist Christian Conservative base and their more socially liberal Wall Street backers.
From our perspective, it seems unlikely that education by itself will create enough of a wedge to break the party’s hold on California, but the Democrats are receiving an early wakeup call on this issue and it would be beneficial to see if they can find common ground, particularly since the threat seems only to be growing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting