I’ve long been a fan of the adage that the worst thing you can give someone is exactly what they’ve asked for.
In the last few days, there has been a minor storm brewing over SB 2161 – the bill in Mississippi designed to address Common Core. The bill passed with overwhelming support in the Mississippi Legislature in an election year. Last week, Governor Phil Bryant had some misgivings about the bill and signaled that he might (might) veto. Wingnut nation piled on both on blogs and in closed door Facebook chat rooms urging him to do that.
Let’s look at how we got here.
In December, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves crossed the rubicon on Common Core and announced that he would support a bill to end Common Core in Mississippi. Bryant welcomed Reeves opposition to Common Core and it looked as if the stars were aligned for a bill that at the very least ended the PARCC testing standard requirement.
In the ensuing session, SB 2161 did exactly that.
From the bill . . .
Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the State Department of Education shall not require school districts to administer the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test or any other consortia developed test.
In the floor version of the bill, it passed almost entirely on party lines. Republicans voted for it (31-16 in the Senate and 76-41 in the House). Democrats largely encouraged by teachers unions and superintendents voted against. Most notably, Senators Melanie Sojourner, Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson took the principled stand of voting “present” for the bill. The bill they’re asking the Governor now to veto is one they didn’t even vote against on the floor the first time through.
On final passage, the bill got even stronger in conference. Of the 98 Republican legislators in the Mississippi legislature, 95 of them voted for final passage of the bill. The only three that did not were Sojourner, McDaniel and Watson, who joined three of their Democrat colleagues in the Senate to vote against the conference report.
In an election year, Common Core is one of those wedge issues that Democrats and Parents for Public Schools would love to jam it to Republicans. Democrats are already boastful that they shut down a tax cut that had majority support in both houses. A veto of Common Core would give them another thing to shout about in an election year. Republicans privately worked hard to keep the core of their caucus in line, and a veto against 95 of 98 members in an election year would be a tough political move.
Most interestingly is who is now “leading the fight” to get Bryant to veto the bill. Sojourner, bless her heart, is even trying to talk up a special session to fix Common Core . . . as dumb as that sounds . . . in an election year.
People who are watching this maneuver should bear in mind that Sojourner may not be back in the 2016 legislative session. Truthfully, that’s what this whole thing may be all about. Of all of the people in the Mississippi Legislature, she probably faces the biggest fight. During the Chris McDaniel campaign, her local newspaper took her to the editorial woodshed on multiple occasions. She also has two primary challengers, notably Lane Reed, the Mayor of Meadville. Her other primary challenger, Curtis Moroney, is from Natchez and could well cut into her base in Natchez. If she survives the primary, she would be likely to face Bob Dearing, a Democrat, who she beat to win the seat in 2011.
For a band of folks who rail about “establishment” politicians trying to save their bacon, this seems to be a textbook case of the same people doing exactly that.
It’s true that there might be some political points (even though Bryant is functionally unopposed in November) to be scored by a veto, but they aren’t cheap political points. They’re unaffordably expensive and they come at the expense of 95 Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature. The smart political move is for Bryant to raise awareness that the fight against Common Core doesn’t end with this bill becoming law and then allow the bill to become law and take SB 2161 for what it is . . . a good first step.