After the election on November 4th, will we then need to defend the independently-elected position of Superintendent of Public Instruction? No matter who wins the race to fill it, the answer is most likely, yes.
There has always been a natural tension between the Governor, the Legislature and the independently-elected positions that clearly fall in the executive branch of Oklahoma government. On the national level, the President is the head of the executive branch and appoints similar secretaries of agencies.
Defending against the influence of big money
The framers of the Oklahoma Constitution were Progressives during a time of great resurgence against the monopolies and big money one-percenters of their own day.
So how did the Progressives structure Oklahoma government to combat that process of big money buying a governor and thereby the whole executive branch of a state?
Their solution was to structure government so that the people of the whole state would not only vote for the Governor, but those who would fill critical intersections of the executive branch such as the state superintendent of schools, the attorney general, members of the the Corporation Commission and other positions in the executive branch.
Similar patterns of corruption today
There are shockingly similar patterns in politics today thanks, in no small part, to the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court that opened the floodgates of huge corporate spending in elections. A new Guilded Age has developed today.
We have seen the effects very clearly here in Oklahoma where Governor Fallin has only listened to voters in campaign years and then listened to big money interests the rest of the time. It is just as tragic for the Republicans who actually believe in integrity in government as for anyone else. The radicals have taken over government just to follow orders of the 1% as they use the word “liberty” a lot.
Superintendent Janet Barresi was the beneficiary of the anti black-man-in-The-White-House freak out of 2010 when anyone with “Republican” next to their name could get elected. Only a few people outside of the OKC area really knew much about her, but by God, they voted for her and any other Republican they could find, because — you know — Obama.
Supt of Public Instruction in for Special Treatment
The ever combative Republican Governor Frank Keating was the first governor in my memory to appoint his own Secretary of Education as a competitor to the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Republican Governor Mary Fallin is the latest in that tradition. She took it to another level, however. Having a closely-controlled Janet Barresi who owed her election to big money in, and out of the state didn’t seem to be enough.
To pull off the takeover of public schools in the state, Fallin appointed an Education Secretary from out of state who was a specialist in private charter school legislation and facilitation.
Had Barresi not been so ham-handed and belligerent toward anyone trained in education, they might have achieved a takeover as Republican governors and legislatures have done in so many other states. Had Barresi just acted like she was for teachers and maybe a few administrators, enough of us might have looked the other way.
That’s just one scary part.
Even scarier is that we still might.
Defending an Independent Supt
If we want effective public and publicly-controlled schools in Oklahoma we will have to step up and aggressively defend the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, no matter who wins, Democrat John Cox or Republican Joy Hofmeister.
Why? Won’t it be enough to just move Barresi out? Sorry, no.
If Cox wins…
Hofmeister has increasingly made bigger noises about how hard it could be for Cox to deal with a Republican-dominated legislature. It’s true that they would not be overly favorable to a Democrat who beat a Republican, who beat the original Republican (Barresi) who they thought they had in their hip pocket.
What that argument misses is that if Cox wins he will have the wide support of Superintendents from across the state who already have very close relationships with their state legislators from their particular locales.
So with a Cox win, Republicans won’t be able to just simply resist his leadership with direct, retail politics. They will have to try and dismantle the power of the position itself either by structure, budgeting, or both.
It has been done in one other state. In Indiana Governor Mike Pence and a Republican legislature have set up not only a competing EdSec position to compete with elected and teacher-supported Supt Glenda Ritz. They have also set up a competing agency and have started appropriating more money to it as they take money away from their SDE.
In addition, the Indiana legislature and governor have set it up where the staff of the appointed state board are under the new agency, not the SDE.
If Hofmeister wins…
But what if Hofmeister wins? Will everything be just fine then? Not necessarily.
Hofmeister has had to position herself outside of the radical Republican, Tea-party, anti-public-school realm in order to run for this office after so much distrust was created by Barresi. She has established relationships and made promises to us that we won’t forget.
So in the event of a Hofmeister win, the legislature and their quiet, but powerful corporate bosses will demand compliance or else. Or else what? They could use the same Indiana approach, but that would make them seem disloyal to another Republican. Most likely, they would start to attack the SDE from the budget side where they can much more easily blow smoke effectively as they have recently with “tax cuts” and a “balanced budget”.
Most importantly, the private investor charter corporations will have very large expectations as they did with Barresi. If Hofmeister obeys, we will need to remind her of her promises. If she doesn’t, she will need our defense in her independence.
Money never sleeps. And investors still see charters as a huge new market just waiting to be raided like they raided productive, responsible corporations in the 1980s.
If Hofmeister resists their demands, which I believe she could and might, they will put pressure on legislators to build structures of legislation out around the SDE.
No matter who wins, we still must defend the position
We will need to defend the independently elected position of Superintendent of Public Instruction no matter which candidate wins on the 4th. It’s time to start getting ready for that fight, whether we like the idea or not.
Public and publicly-controlled schools, the students, and our state Constitution need our defense.