Looks like most of the statewide offices will end up real yawners for fall elections, where there’s little chance that Republicans will lose any of these seats and policy change possibilities seem minimal. The Legislature will become a little more conservative, but, again, featuring only a minor policy shift in that direction therefore. So if you want to go where the real action is, where monumental if destructive policy change could happen as a result of white-hot elections, then you need to check out the contests for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
All eight of the elective positions are up for grabs this fall, and the dynamics of the contests could make matters dicey for supporters of reform that have brought clear improvement to Louisiana’s public schools over the past 15 years. While BESE has 11 members, the governor appoints three of them, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown every indication he will put reform supporters in these slots, two of which have signaled they wish to continue to serve.
This means reformers must win at least three of the eight elective positions in order to prevail on policy matters, which would maintain their current edge made up of members Jim Garvey, Glenny Lee Buquet, and Chas Roemer. Typically voting against reform have been Louella Givens, Walter Lee, Keith Guice, Dale Bayard, and Linda Johnson.
All elected establishment candidates are Democrats, while Garvey and Roemer are the only two elected Republicans on BESE – the only state elected entity where Democrats still have a majority.
Unfortunately for reformers, Buquet is retiring after long service who did not draw opposition last time. Neither did Garvey, another long-time member, nor Roemer, running for the first time. This means reformers lost in every other contest, although they contested only three of the others. Two of the districts held by establishment members are majority black and last time did not draw reform candidates. However, in 2007 newcomer Guice was led into the general election runoff by reformer and Republican Party activist Ruth Ullrich before winning, while Bayard barely defeated reformer and Republican Party activist Charlie Buckels. For the establishment, Johnson also is retiring.
In addition, the establishment plans on backing one of its own, retired school superintendant Donald Songy, vigorously against Roemer. Garvey also is getting a challenge from it from retired teacher and anti-reformer Lee Barrios, while the field still is coalescing for Buquet’s seat although one candidate recently declared, meaning all three reform seats are at risk although Garvey’s seems the least threatened.
However, Johnson’s open black-majority district has drawn a black candidate who looks very open to reform measures, Teach for America official Russell Armstrong, although the establishment has put up East Baton Rouge Parish School District lawyer Domoine Rutledge (despite some controversy over whether he could qualify as a candidate). Bayard has drawn perhaps an even more quality opponent than ever before with reform ideas, former teacher (and former state Teacher of the Year) Holly Boffy. The most difficult district of all for reformers to win, Givens’ that also has a black majority, also got a high profile challenger sympathetic to reform with the entrance of black Tira Orange Jones, another Teach for America official.
Fortunately for the establishment, it looks like Guice and Lee may get free rides. Thus, of the six contested spots, reformers must take half to maintain their majority. The most difficult will be in the black majority districts, meaning they can afford to lose one of the remainder. Garvey remains a solid favorite, so it becomes best of three from there.
Given the extraordinary effort the establishment will put behind Garvey because of its loathing of Roemer, Bayard’s long incumbency, and the uncertain situation in Buquet’s district, it’s possible reformers could lose all three. But if Roemer, who didn’t have to run much of a campaign last time, can run forcefully, if Boffy can translate her strong credentials into a good campaign, and if the situation settles in the other district where reform forces can mount a quality campaign, reformers might win them all, and further lagniappe may accrue from a victory or two in the black-majority districts.
Regardless, with reform and establishment coalitions forming and pledging support to sympathetic candidates, the big battles – with continued improvement with Louisiana education on the line – with the greatest policy consequences this election cycle will occur regarding BESE.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:15