Florida Democrats Sell Out To School Voucher Lobby

Saunders views on vouchers have led to campaign contributions

Regular readers of this website will appreciate our continued concern about the unwillingness of Florida’s Democrats to stand up for Public Education. In the past several years, while Democrats in other states have fought tooth and nail to protect the public school system, Florida’s Democrats have accepted substantial portions of the Jeb Bush formulated “school reform” package pushed by right wing pressure groups. Now it comes to light that several Democrats have even taken campaign contributions from the leaders of the voucher movement.

The legacy of Bob Graham, Reuben Askew and most recently Lawton Chiles in fighting extreme right wing efforts to hijack our public schools has been effectively undone not only by Jeb Bush and his minions but also with the help and complicity of completely spineless Democrats. It is one thing when African-American lawmakers buy into the premise that vouchers will help their communities. (For the record their is empirical data that it does not help their communities, just selected students, but that is a debate for another day.) It is a completely different issue when Democratic lawmakers representing districts where the majority of voters are against most voucher schemes vote repeatedly for voucher programs. Public opinion polls have shown that vouchers are especially unpopular with Florida’s white suburban voters, and are particularly disliked in heavily Jewish areas of southeast Florida. Yet several Democrats representing constituencies that clearly oppose voucher programs have voted for multiple voucher bills in the legislature.

The evolution of many Democrats on the issue is striking. House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders did not cast one vote for voucher legislation in his first Legislative stint which ended in 1994. As one of the leading Democrats on budget and tax matters, Saunders actively supported the program pushed by Governor Chiles that brought more accountability and better public spending to Florida’s schools. The same can be said for Senator Gwen Margolis who served as Senate President during Chiles first two years as Governor. Two decades later, both Saunders and Margolis have a voting record on education matters that are more in line with the views of Jeb Bush than the late Governor Chiles.

The willingness of many Democrats to accept contributions from John Kirtley, the public mouthpiece of the school voucher movement is stunning. We have seen in the recent past Democrats less willing to question campaign contributions and their source than some of their Republican counterparts. For example, I know of several Republicans who will not accept money from sugar companies regardless of their campaign needs. But  many Democrats, who often cite an inability to raise money at the same rate as Republicans have told me that they cannot turn down potential contributions from anywhere because that would amount to “unilateral disarmament.”

In this particular case, does $500 from John Kirtley really make that much of a difference for an incumbent lawmaker? Or perhaps is this just another sign of the rudderless Florida Democrats who do not stand for a single thing and whose political agenda is more dictated by pressure groups than their constituents and advocacy groups who seek good public policy and a vibrant debate. Regardless of your views on school vouchers,  many Florida Democrats are again demonstrating that standing on principle and fighting for those not represented by Tallahassee lobbyists or the Republican majority is a foreign concept to them. When the Democrats sell out so easily, they not only accept bad public policy but they undermine Democracy as well.

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22 thoughts on “Florida Democrats Sell Out To School Voucher Lobby

  1. I am against vouchers but think the unwillingness of the teacher’s union to spend what it takes to protect democrats led to this.

    The FEAs political operation is a mess since the failure of the McBride campaign. It’s gotten worse through the years.

  2. Yes, Bob Graham was a champion for Florida, a Progressive Governor with ethics and integrity……where have all these folks gone…..

  3. 1 D vote in 2001 and 24 D votes in 2011 on a bill that was almost identical.

    That about tells you what has happened to our party. We have lost party discipline totally and have leaders that have sold out. It also says in the era of term limits those Democrats who fought so hard on our principles are gone and now we have selfish political opportunists using the party and the process to benefit themselves.

  4. maria sachs also voted for vouchers. also slosberg may have along with Bernard. really an unforgivable vote. funding christian schools is not something our Jewish leaders can tolerate.

  5. The title suggests all Dems…not the case….there are Dem legislators who remain against vouchers and the corporate reform education people. They also have 100% records, against.

  6. Slosberg voted for vouchers prior to Deutch helping him in 2010. Abruzzo, Sachs, Bernard and Perman all voted for vouchers. Vouchers are a need to a point in the African American community when the majority of the people you represent have no other option. Bernard can get a pass only if he discusses the problem within the community and how to solve it….hello do you not understand what is taking place on national level. It should not be about religious schools. It should be about improving schools but the issues is NO Democrat outside Obama has address the issue about schools in low economic and graduation rates.

    Invest in our public school, use vouchers as a transitional tool and for Pete’s sake have a plan to improve public education.

  7. Check the final vote count on that issue. Slosberg cast a NO vote on vouchers. Sounds like you get your history lessons from Wexler and Burt.

  8. Jim Waldman and Jeremy Ring are two Jewish legislators voting directly against their constituents and for vouchers here in Broward.

    Ring is delusional if he thinks he can run statewide with his record. We will get the vote out against him in any D primary. That is a promise.

  9. Clearly many Democrats are self centered and simply do not care about undertaking any effort to rebuild the party. This has been perfectly obvious for about ten years now. While the RPOF preaches loyalty and discipline the FDP is a free for all, every individual for themselves.

    Thus we will always be a minority until our leaders realize their is no I in team.

  10. Thanks stsmith, I was going to suggest the same thing. The Democratic Progressive Caucus IS trying to get that message out there, and bring Democrats back to our progressive values.

  11. I am proud my former Rep. Keith Fitzgerald always voted no and never got money from them. He paid for it with his seat but always stood on principle and now is going to congress hopefully. Demos in liberal areas are sell outs and deserve ti be punished. Our leaders, Smith, Sink and especially Saunders deserve to be punished by we the liberals.

    I have to say this article is simply shocking in what it exposes.

  12. Abruzzo and Bernard are misguided on this issue and K should probably not go after them too hard. But regarding Ring I have come to the conclusion he is a Trojan horse……a Manchurian candidate who is being encouraged by Republican oriented lobbyists to destabilize and destroy the Democratic party, or worse yet nominate someone who will mirror the GOP agenda and allow business to reign supreme even if we defeat Rick Scott. .
    I know this may sound far fetched, but who would be encouraging this guy to run for governor? Those people who pro-business, pro-vouchers and anti-union who want to protect their interest and are fearful that Rick Scott is going down.
    Think about it folks…

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  14. The article seems to be arguing that Democratic legislators are at fault for voting to please the black community against the wishes of white and/or Jewish voters.

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