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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Douse the fire-breathing

by John Brummett | June 1, 2023 at 2:52 a.m.

Gov. Sarah Sanders practices overstated and incendiary divisiveness as a political tactic.

Her essence is as a cynical political operative, and she's a good one of those. She knows that divisiveness works for her politically. Election returns and polls indicate the division in Arkansas is two-thirds with her and one third for rightness. So, she divides to pound the dead horses of the politically conquered.

She was back on Twitter the other day. Here is what she said: "After we passed the best education reform in the country, a far left judge wants to throw it out and silence parents, allow CRT and indoctrination, slash teacher pay, and trap kids in failing schools. We will NOT let that happen."

The "far-left judge" is Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright, a veteran who issued a temporary injunction last week against the effective date of Sanders' LEARNS law. He did so on the simple basis that he had no other choice considering the plaintiff's argument that the state Constitution plainly requires a separate vote on emergency clauses and no such separate vote was taken on LEARNS.

All the judge did was say "hold everything" until a final disposition June 20 on the state's edict that the failing Marvell-Elaine School District get overseen by a charter school management company. If the LEARNS Act is not now effective, then no authority for such an arrangement yet exists.

His temporary restraining order requires the existence of a threat of irreparable harm. In this matter he had the dismissal by the management firm of some of the school district's staff.

A couple of weeks ago this same judge ruled against a liberal-ish lawsuit against the Republican legislative redrawing of congressional districts in a way that split southeastern Pulaski County Black voters into three districts. That's some of the weirdest far-left judging I've ever heard of.

The most defensible assertion in Sanders' tweet is that her LEARNS Act was the best education reform in the country. At least that's a matter of opinion based on a case one can construct, much as my written assertion that LEARNS is designed to kill traditional public schools is defensible as a matter of opinion based on a case one can construct.

It's plainly bold to raise starting teacher pay to $50,000, do away with career-ladder raises for veteran teachers, get rid of teacher fair-dismissal protections, provide for letting charter-school companies take over public schools and, of course, newly subsidize with public funds those parents who are sufficiently well-to-do already to pay all of their children's church-school tuitions.

As for the rest of her tweet ... it's compounding hooey.

That the judge "wants to throw ... out" the law is not clear at this juncture when he is only temporarily stopping the effectiveness of the LEARNS provisions while we await a final resolution.

That the judge wants to "silence parents" is an odd accusation considering that the lawsuit was brought in behalf of parents in the Marvell-Elaine school district who want more time to push for an alternative to the Sanders administration's edict for control by a charter school management company with a less than stellar performance record of its own.

Allow liberal indoctrination? Yes, it's true that, by issuing a stay against the effectiveness of the law, the judge has made temporarily dormant all provisions including one barring liberal indoctrination. But the case focuses and hinges on the date the law becomes effective. The law itself is inevitable until and unless a group wanting to circulate petitions to get repeal put on the ballot can succeed.

Anyway, the only indoctrination on this issue evident lately is by Sanders and her Education Department. They're spreading the incorrect assertion among Marvell-Elaine patrons that, by their suit, the local plaintiffs--parents, grandparents and school-district staff--would force the local district to get consolidated or otherwise go out of existence.

That's not so. The state could always take over the district itself--as it did in Little Rock--and then cede back local control after a takeover period. But the state doesn't want the responsibility. It turns out that education in communities mired in cycles of poverty is hard. And the state doesn't want the expense. It prefers to force the Marvell-Elaine district to fork over a portion of its budget to this charter management firm.

Slash teacher pay? Yes, repealing the law would sacrifice the provision for $50,000 minimum salaries. The context is that opponents of the bill aren't opponents of that, but all the rest. It's that the wherewithal to get those raises paid is in the budget, thanks, I acknowledge, to the governor and legislative allies.

All I'm doing is admonishing myself against incendiary rhetorical hyperbole and encouraging the governor to join me in the same for the good of the political culture, even if the currently diseased culture loves overstatement and is all in her favor.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Print Headline: Douse the fire-breathing


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