The Louisiana GOP primary is this Saturday, despite Rep. John Bel Edwards’ efforts last year to keep it from happening, so races and their winners are understandably on the state’s political minds.
But this week the biggest winner of all is Edwards himself. He’s the runaway leader in the Bayou State Drama Queen Derby.
Yesterday Edwards took to the House Floor to raise hell about a public-records request Bryan Jeansonne, an attorney, conservative activist and law partner of Louisiana Republican Party executive director Jason Dore’, made looking for correspondence between Edwards and Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan. He also went bananas about efforts by the school choice crowd – and Jeansonne in particular – to get a list of teachers from the Tangipahoa Parish School Board. Edwards’ wife is a public school teacher in Tangipahoa and a member of the LFT, he said.
Our own Tom Bonnette caught all this on video yesterday, at least when he wasn’t dodging state reps who invaded his shot.
It was a clown show, and there wasn’t a lot of truth in it.
For example, Edwards claimed that state superintendent of education John White had said 17 times that local tax money would be diverted to private schools as part of Gov. Jindal’s education reform package in last Wednesday’s House Education Committee debate. But those of us who sat through that 16-hour marathon hearing – and Edwards and his partner in crime Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) did everything they could to make sure it lasted every minute of that 16 hours if not longer – and didn’t pass out are well aware that his claim is a fraud. White explicitly said that money from the Minimum Foundation Program, which would be used to fund the voucher program, is state money and not local money. White probably said that 17 times; it’s difficult to understand where Edwards finds support for his claim.
And then there’s his brandishing of the letter Jeansonne wrote to the Tangipahoa School Board trying to get a mailing list of teachers. Edwards asked aloud “why in the world would they want to contact those teachers?” as though somehow the school choice folks are going to go door-to-door with 300-pound goons or something. It was a pretty blatant attempt to demonize the other side.
Of course, what Edwards didn’t tell his audience from the House floor podium was that his wife’s union, as well as the Louisiana Association of Educators, already have those lists. And that they’ve been mailing to them for months on this issue. And that those lists are a matter of public record, meaning it’s the right of the school choice crowd to seek them, so that the school choice crowd can attempt to (1) find allies among public school teachers, and (2) get a message out directly to them unfiltered by the media.
And that it wasn’t just the Tangipahoa School Board that received that letter; every school district in the state got one, because you can’t get that list from the state Department of Education – you have to go school district by school district, because it’s the school districts who are the employers of the public employees in question.
In other words, the school choice crowd is attempting to increase the flow of information on this issue. Which is, if you’ll excuse us as we attempt to work all this out, the point of the Democrats’ complaints that this package is moving too fast through the legislature – right?
So to sum this one up – Edwards thinks it’s fine for the teachers’ unions to send correspondence out to public school teachers, but if somebody else wants to have their say he’s going to lose his marbles about it and act like there’s an iron curtain descending on Louisiana.
But the main event was the FOIA request for his e-mail backs-and-forths with Monaghan. Edwards knows that request isn’t likely to go anywhere, since leges like him are exempt in large part from public records law. And what would come out of that request wouldn’t likely be released until well after the session ends; getting things from FOIA requests when the requestee doesn’t want to cooperate is anything but a fast process. If he wasn’t interested in grandstanding, he would have laughed off that request and muttered about it in the hallways.
But no – he had to make a federal case about it.
Which suggests to us that the reason Edwards acted like such a squealing pig about the request is the reason Jeansonne wanted it in the first place was a grand slam – namely, that a review of e-mail correspondence between Edwards and Monaghan – or other teacher union bosses – would reveal that nothing he’s said in public to date didn’t originate from union talking points. That Edwards is nothing but a mouthpiece for the unions. And that Edwards cooked up this strategy, if you can call it that, of howling about things like local tax dollars, in concert with them.
And that’s significant because the teachers’ unions have been behind the opposition to every single education reform in this country in the last 40 years, so it would be instructive if not surprising that they’re calling the plays against this one in Louisiana.
What Edwards ought to do, if he really is interested in having all the cards on the table where education reform in Louisiana is concerned like he’s been saying he is since he started whining about how fast the legislation was moving last week, is release his e-mail correspondence with Monaghan, and Joyce Haynes, and their lieutenants, and his friends on school boards, and anybody else in an official or political capacity involved in this debate. Because if he does that and a picture emerges which is different from what it looks like now, and Edwards doesn’t actually turn out to be a stooge of the teachers’ unions but a sincere opponent of this package, then maybe we should take him seriously.
The guess here is he won’t do that, for the precise reason Jeansonne wanted those e-mails. He’s carrying water for a crowd which opposes any changes to the current system that would give public-school parents more control over their children’s future.
And based on what the public thinks of that crowd, Edwards would rather not have that out in the open.