Because it almost worked last year, some educational policy reactionaries are counting on a Trojan Horse strategy to beat the odds and get elected this fall to Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
This ruse involves qualifying for a contest as a Republican or Libertarian to mask the candidate’s actual leanings on education policy, which are really driven by left-wing orthodoxy. The tactic has particular appeal, of course, in districts that heavily favor GOP candidates, and that obviously means most of Louisiana.
In 2014, candidate for Public Service Commission Forrest Wright embraced this cynical gimmick when he ran as a Republican, despite the fact he advocated for the same big-government, heavy-regulation approach that would have forced higher utility rates, tilting the scales to favor alternative energy interests. It’s essentially the same platform he used while running as a Democrat in 2012. Wright almost won, despite a philosophy contrary to Republican Party principles.
Now, some BESE candidates are emulating Wright’s approach. For example, running against GOP incumbent and teacher Holly Boffy in District 7, longtime educator Mike Kreamer stresses that he opposes general charter schools not approved by their local districts. As school boards seldom do approve these charters, Kreamer’s position is tantamount to eliminating charter schools, which he equates with “privatization of our public schools.” Yet, national and state Republican parties highlight in their platforms that they support robust educational choice, including charter schools.
Less subtly, retired educator Lee Barrios, also firmly invested in the underperforming system of the past, is running as a Republican after campaigning as a Democrat four years ago, challenging the same incumbent from the GOP, James Garvey in District 1. Barrios has a long history of opposing almost the entirety of the GOP’s education platform, including recent reforms that include increasing charter school choices, making vouchers available and placing more emphasis on measurable merit standards in gauging teacher accountability. All of this is in keeping with stances she articulated as a Democrat candidate.
Perhaps the most discordant nexus of label and actual belief comes from Jason France, a former state education employee running for the open seat in Republican-heavy District 6. It’s the only race where more than one party label appears on the ballot. France calls himself a Libertarian, while his opponents are running as Republicans. He has left a considerable document trail revealing his opposition to recent reforms, such as evaluating teachers on the basis of quantifiable test scores and chartering schools over local board objections.
This puts him out of step with the Libertarian Party’s national platform that exhorts maximal parental school choice, with government providing vouchers for all families with minimal interference. Designating himself a Libertarian allows a contrast to the others without adopting this district’s sure-loser Democrat label, although on education issues, he mostly walks the Democratic Party line.
These three violators of truth in labeling will try to obscure their reactionary views that empower special interests over families by showcasing their opposition to Common Core, the set of state education goals that many Republicans find problematic. While an important issue, it should not become a Trojan Horse to mask the motives of candidates who want to undo educational reforms that are starting to lift Louisiana’s educational system from its abysmal past.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation in it (www.laleglog.com). Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.