The Givens-Orange Jones BESE Race (Updated)

You had to know this thing was going to get ugly, and it has.

As a reset for our readers who haven’t followed the race to date, Louella Givens is the incumbent. She’s more your typical New Orleans Democrat politician, with a list of backers reading like a who’s-who of the Hard Left. Jacques Morial, Cedric Richmond, state Rep. Wesley Bishop and, more importantly Tracie Washington, one of the city’s more infamous “civil rights” attorneys who has gone after the challenger with a lawsuit all but calling her a sellout to white people.

And Kira Orange-Jones is the challenger. Like Givens, she’s a Democrat. But unlike Givens, Orange-Jones is a proponent of school choice and charter schools and particularly the work being done in Orleans Parish wherein parents aren’t bound by a command-economy school system trapping kids in cookie-cutter schools. Orange-Jones, who managed to go from disadvantaged kid in the Bronx to a master’s degree from Harvard, is a Teach For America disciple, and that makes her an enemy of the teachers’ unions and education establishment types.

So it’s by no means a surprise that the race has gotten hot. Nonetheless, Washington’s lawsuit last week was one for the ages – no less because it produced a result. The Times-Picayune reported:

In the lawsuit, three retired teachers — Katrena Ndang, Myrtis Johnson and Gwendolyn Adams — asked a judge to bar Orange Jones from running ads claiming she voted for Obama in 2008.

In response, Orleans Parish Civil District Judge Sidney Cates IV ordered Orange Jones to “cease and desist from misrepresenting her voting record or her registration.” But he stopped short of ruling on whether or not she had actually done so by claiming to have cast a ballot for Obama.

Before signing the order, Cates crossed out language proposed by Washington that would have barred Orange Jones from “advertising in any way that she voted for President Barack H. Obama in November of 2008, or voted in any election prior to her registration in August 2011, a claim made to entice African-American voters to cast their ballot for her.”

The upshot is that Washington says Orange Jones didn’t vote for Obama because she’s a tool of Gov. Bobby Jindal and other conservatives. Which is a fairly invalid argument to make, since Obama’s own education secretary Arne Duncan has praised the charter school movement in New Orleans, going so far as to say that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to public education in Orleans Parish because it destroyed an obsolete and failed system.

Nevertheless, Orange Jones’ voter registration in Orleans Parish only dates from August and she’s a little muddy on where she would have voted in 2008. She’s lived in New Orleans since 2007 but apparently was registered in New York before this year – but on the registration form from August she put down “none” as her place of last registration. Orange Jones says she misunderstood the form as asking where she was registered locally. Givens’ camp says that’s a lie, and thus the suit says Orange Jones’ claim to have voted for Obama is false advertising.

This has little to do with education, of course, but that doesn’t matter in an election. What might be most interesting is that Orange Jones’ list of endorsements includes lots of conservatives, most prominently Cajun Industries CEO Lane Grigsby, who has driven a fortune into the BESE races behind school choice candidates, and out-of-state figures like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, but also both New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and his sister, Sen. Mary Landrieu. But while the Landrieus are Democrats, they’re not black – and so the race has taken on an ugly character in that Givens is attempting to portray herself as the “authentic” black candidate in the race and Orange-Jones is the “oreo,” or sellout.

Whether that will fly or not is a question. But Washington’s lawsuit had a breathtaking bit of rhetoric to it…

The lawsuit argues it is “particularly egregious that an African-American female — principally financed by out-of-district white men who have never taken an interest in the lives of New Orleans’ children — would” misrepresent her voting record to “her own people.”

Pretty brutal stuff.

Orange-Jones, meanwhile, has gone up with radio spots that hit Givens on her own personal issues – and there is fertile ground to be plowed there. After all, the incumbent has a DWI arrest of recent vintage, not to mention a million-dollar IRS lien and multiple bankruptcies. None of those have much to do with education either, but they fit nicely in 30-second spots.

What might be a more interesting line of attack for Orange-Jones to pursue is Givens’ strange support for the Fethullah Gulen movement which was responsible for one of the more spectacular failures among the city’s charter schools. The Turkish Muslim outfit which had the charter for Abramson Science and Technology School in Givens’ district had it pulled over the summer amid a host of allegations of abuse, with an attempted bribe of state officials to make the problems go away, and yet Givens was the sole vote against pulling that charter. This after a junket she took to Turkey sponsored – though she says not paid for – by the Gulen people.

Givens won’t say she’s against charters on a wholesale basis, only that they be put in place intelligently and with discretion. It’s difficult to square that with her support for the Abramson debacle and her opposition to BESE’s correction of it. Instead, her camp is decrying charters as a vehicle to put profit ahead of children in education, and Orange-Jones as a tool of the rich white guys who want to make a buck off the poor kids (as though union bosses and connected contractors of school boards don’t do famously well under the current system). Rather than make the argument against charters on the merits, though, the narrative seems easier just to accuse Orange-Jones as an Uncle Tom and be done with it.

On Saturday, voters will have a chance to be done with Givens, and with her the failed system of education to which Louisiana has been married for decades.

UPDATE: It should be said that though Jindal’s name has been thrown around a good bit in the BESE District 2 race, he hasn’t made an endorsement. There’s a reason for that; it wouldn’t do Orange-Jones any good to have Jindal’s endorsement in a majority-black district. So rather than being a millstone around her neck he’s keeping quiet in both that race and the District 8 BESE runoff, in which reform candidate Carolyn Hill and establishment-backed Jimmy Guillory are head-to-head in another majority-black district.

As Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin noted, “Nobody in those races has sought the governor’s endorsement.”

UPDATE #2: In case our readers aren’t familiar with the tactics Tracie Washington employs when she gets involved in a race, a taste from our lefty friends at Krewe Of Truth

…as we approach the last days of the BESE  District 2 race, Ms. Washington, on behalf of her candidate Louella Givens,  has resorted to bullying. In truth, it started at the candidate’s forum during  the primary at Dillard University, where Ms. Washington cornered Kira  Orange Jones and began shouting at her, sticking her finger in Kira’s face  and demanding her to drop out of the race. Those of us who have endured  Tracie’s venom advised our candidate to be professional and just move on.

And that’s exactly what Ms. Orange Jones has done. But now that Kira’s  position as the frontrunner is unassailable, Tracie has again resorted to bullying.  She has filed court injunctions. She is stalking those who have endorsed  Kira. She is sending out emails with Kira’s supposed schedule, encouraging  Louella supporters to go and harass Kira.

Washington, CEO of something called the Louisiana Justice Institute, is perhaps best known for her role in releasing lots of New Orleans City Council e-mails without permission in an effort to smear white council members as racists a couple of years ago. She’s a real piece of work.

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