"As a legislator, the only time you can get away with acting like a statesman as opposed to a partisan politician is when your political party is in the minority..." - Marcus Ginantonicus
Here we go again! Democrats are furiously writing letters to the Appeal complaining about Republican partisan politics in Senator Mark Amodei's call to replace Bonnie Parnell in the District 40 Assembly seat.
Of course it's partisan politics! Our political system has always been and always will be structured around partisan politics practiced by both parties. Those who think otherwise are hopelessly naive.
The Republican call to replace Bonnie Parnell has little to do with her performance as a freshman legislator. The Republican party wants to restructure public education to bring it in line with what you citizens expect, or demand, from public education. But it can't be done without a Republican majority in the Assembly or the Senate.
Why? Because the Democrats have controlled the Assembly Education Committee for 23 of the last 25 years and look what they've given us. They perpetuate the status-quo with new names for failed programs.
Democrats also control the public education establishment. I'll bet that over 90 percent of all public school teachers are registered Democrats, as are most members of the administration. And we know the teachers' union leaders are Democrats. We also know that almost all teachers had better be members of the teachers' union and openly support union objectives or be socially ostracized by their peers. It's a closed shop when it comes to innovative reforms.
Now the sad truth is that over the past 25 years of Democrat domination of the Assembly, no one other than the teachers' union and members of the education establishment paid attention to the Assembly Education Committee. When I was a legislator, I didn't either. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
I underestimated the mischief routinely going on in that committee until I was out of the Legislature and began writing columns for the Appeal.
The main thing you letter writers either don't understand, or fail to admit that you do understand, is that the majority party in both houses of the Legislature controls the legislative agenda. Oh sure, the governor has some input plus veto power, but the real muscle lies with the committee chairpersons who determine what agendas (bills) will or will not be heard in committee, and the majority party appoints every committee chairperson! This is why partisanship is so important!
That being the case, if the Republican party wants to reform public education along the lines of more charter schools, more classroom autonomy for teachers, competition between schools, technical-vocational schools as an alternative to college, higher achievement levels and other avenues of excellence in an effort to give you citizens our money's worth, then you voters have no choice but to return the Assembly plurality to the Republicans for the first time since 1985.
Now herein lies the rub so far as Bonnie Parnell is concerned. If Bonnie is reelected and the Democrats continue to hold the Assembly majority, we're going to once again be struck with Wendell Williams as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. This guy's been in that seat for as long as I can remember and is the principal impediment to public education reform. Williams' rock-headed determination to march to the teachers' union drum is a disgraceful sellout of any chance for educational excellence. Moreover, I think he's an arrogant racialist (racist doesn't apply here). I've watched him single-handedly kill excellent legislation against his committee's wishes because he didn't think it related to the so-called "black experience."
No doubt, Bonnie Parnell would be a great improvement over Wendell Williams as chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee should the Democrats again hold the majority. But she won't get the chance if Williams returns and there's no reason to believe he won't. Not only is seniority a factor, but the chairmanship has been a bone traditionally thrown to Clark County.
Yes, Republican partisan politics must prevail if you citizens want genuine educational reform. The status quo is the teacher's union path to education, and that's all we'll ever get from the Democrats. That doesn't mean legislators can't think as individuals, but when push comes to shove, and the "party" calls for unity on issues which the party leaders deem crucial, then individual legislators will toe the line or suffer the consequences of never getting their own agenda even heard, much less passed. Bonnie Parnell is no exception.
Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.