Friday, August 24, 2007

A Calendar In Chaos

August 23, 2007
A Calendar In Chaos
By Reid Wilson

For both Democratic and Republican party officials, the 2008 nominating contest is not only about who they choose to seek the presidency, but about how, and when, that nominee is selected. Increasingly, the how and when are creating a state of near-chaos as states jockey for position and party officials find themselves with little control.

While the national media focuses on Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states which traditionally hold the first caucus and primary, respectively, other states are making moves to set their contests as early as possible in order, they claim, to exert more influence over the contest and to assure that candidates speak to their issues.
But, thanks largely to pressure exerted by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the Wolverine State will be the latest to challenge the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire when the State House passes legislation moving the state's primary to January 15th, just a day after the originally-scheduled Iowa caucuses - a date now all but certain to be abandoned.

Michigan's move, as well as positions taken by Florida and other states which threaten both parties' meticulously-laid out calendar, are the latest events to sow uncertainty into the presidential race. "The structure is in danger of collapsing," said Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker. "Everybody wants to be Lord Warwick, who puts the crown on the king's head."
If DNC and RNC officials stick to their game plans, states that jump the gun could face heavy sanctions, making their early primaries little more than beauty pageants. Whether the parties are willing to punish those early states, though, remains to be seen.
Both parties agreed that several states should hold contests before the "window," during which any state can hold a contest on any day. The window for each begins on Tuesday, February 5th, and runs to July, though Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina all have a pass to hold their contests earlier. For Democrats, Nevada is also allowed to caucus before other states.
When the window opens, nearly two dozen states will hold their contests at the first available opportunity, meaning the vast majority of delegates to national conventions will be selected on one day. The event, dubbed "Super Duper Tuesday," got more crowded this week when Arizona became the twenty-first state to announce plans to hold their primary that day.
Though not every state is content to wait for the pre-defined window. If, as planned, Michigan holds its contest on January 15th and Florida holds theirs on January 29th, they could, as Levin hopes, diminish the power Iowa and New Hampshire hold over the nominating process. Many critics argue that the two states, which have sky-high percentages of white voters and strong views about certain obscure issues on which every candidate must bend, do not represent the entire U.S. well, and therefore should be replaced with a better microcosm of the country.
On the other hand, Michigan and Florida could, according to party sources, write themselves out of the process entirely. If punished by the DNC and RNC, both states, said South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler, "are probably going to lose enough delegates so that their process becomes irrelevant."
Indeed, it appears that early contests by Michigan and Florida threaten South Carolina's traditional first-in-the-South primary more than Iowa or New Hampshire. "The difference is mega-states versus smaller states," South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson said. "I find it disappointing that a U.S. Senator has injected himself into the process."
The position which argues that, by their nature as smaller states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are better able to judge some second-tier candidates up close and give them a shot has not been lost on campaigns of either party. "Powerful interests are trying to change the Democratic nomination for President into a game of Monopoly, replacing the retail politics" of early states "with a process in which the only credential necessary to be President is to be the wealthiest candidate," Delaware Senator Joe Biden said in a statement.
"The lower tier and skinny-cat campaigns are the ones that are hurt the most," said one Republican campaign strategist. "[Arizona Senator John] McCain and [former Arkansas Governor Mike] Huckabee aren't in a position to quickly move the small staff and limited resources they have to a state that jumps into position to have a big impact on the nominating process."
The issue will come to a head, for Democrats, on Saturday, when the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets in Washington. There, party officials will decide what actions to take against Florida, which has formally submitted its plan to hold the primary on January 29th. Penalties imposed on Florida may have enough impact to dissuade Michigan from formally resubmitting its plan, which, as currently filed with the DNC, calls for a February 9th primary.
This weekend's committee meeting is the last scheduled meeting before the nominating process starts. But if Michigan does decide to resubmit its plan and hold a mid-January primary, "it's possible that the RBC will need to take up additional calendar issues following the meeting," hinted DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton.
If the DNC finds Florida and, eventually, Michigan, out of compliance, it has several options. First, all the state's super-delegates would lose their privileges (Super-delegates include members of Congress, a state's governor and members of the DNC). Second, at least half of the state's pledged delegates could be taken away.
At best, Florida would wield approximately the same influence as Georgia, Maryland or Washington State, all of which have vastly smaller populations. At worst, the DNC could decide to make a stronger stand and take away all the state's delegates. Based on the DNC's actions, says South Carolina Republican Dawson, "I think it's going to change the appetite of Michigan."
For the RNC, rules are similar, though theirs were set at the 2004 convention and are not subject to change, as Democrats' are. States have until September 4th to officially submit plans to hold primaries and caucuses. If a state moves their contest after the September 4th deadline, or if they hold their contest before February 5th without permission, they will also lose at least half their delegates.
For some states, even the threat of fewer delegates and less influence is not enough to scare them off. "We understand what the possible consequences are," said Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis. "We're cautiously optimistic that we wouldn't lose any delegates." Still, if his state faces a threat from either party, says Anuzis, "we think the risks are worth the potential benefit."
To Baker and others, the lack of structure is troubling. "It keeps the candidates and campaigns off balance. It's introduced a huge amount of uncertainty on the system," he said. "You're going to be squandering resources based on contingencies, based on hypotheses, based on rumors, based on threats."
By the end of Saturday, only one issue ripe for rumor and threats will be solved: How far the DNC and chairman Howard Dean are willing to go to hold the line on states creeping earlier. Iowa is still waiting for New Hampshire to name the date of their primary. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is still contemplating just how early he will set the primary. Even South Carolina Republicans are contemplating another move: The party's executive committee gave Dawson the power to hold the primary on any day in December or January.
The DNC, perhaps forseeing the inevitable calendar crunch in December 2004, named former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and North Carolina Congressman David Price to run the party's Nominating Calendar Commission for 2008. But the uncertainty in the calendar, says Baker, can only be solved by a party elder or senior statesman. "If George Mitchell weren't tied up," Baker said, referring to the former Senate Minority Leader currently investigating the prevalence of steroids in baseball, "he'd be a great person to get."
Until a Mitchell figure emerges in both parties, the process will remain muddled. South Carolina Democrat Fowler demonstrated just how up in the air the calendar remains, just four months before the first contest is expected: "The only date [for a contest] we know is the South Carolina Republicans, assuming they don't change and move to some other date."
She paused. "Which they might."
Reid Wilson, an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics, formerly covered polls and polling for The Hotline, National Journal’s daily briefing on politics. Wilson’s work has appeared in National Journal, Hotline OnCall and the Arizona Capitol Times. He can be reached at

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: People Are More Important than Animals

People Are More Important than Animals
by Abel KeoghAugust 23, 2007
Let’s say your next door neighbor becomes angry at his dog. To punish the animal he puts him in an oven and cooks him for five minutes at 200 degrees. The dog lives but will bear physical scars of the incident for the rest of his life. The next day this same neighbor is arrested for sexually abusing a minor. For what crime should your neighbor receive the most punishment: torturing a dog or sexually abusing a minor?
According to Utah animal rights activists, torturing a dog should receive a harsher sentence. Thankfully, for the time being, the Utah state legislature disagreed.
Yesterday the Utah state legislature balked on voting on a measure that would have made acts of animal torture, now a Class A misdemeanor, a third degree felony and punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
This all sounds good until you learn, thanks to Republican Sen. Jon Greiner, that under Utah law such crimes as child abuse, sexual abuse of a minor, assault of a police officer, and assault of a school employee are still Class A misdemeanors. “How do we get to a third-degree felony [for animal torture] when we don’t have enough respect for human life, sexually abused children, that we don’t have a higher standard of care for them?” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
How, indeed.
The fact that the legislature is seriously considering this bill shouldn’t come as a surprise. For years militant animal rights activists and have told us that animals have at least the same rights as people: we shouldn’t eat them, perform scientific experiments on them, or even consider building homes, roads, or bridges where it might disturb them. Their goal has been to get us to treat animals as equals. Now it seems they want us to treat them as our superiors.
Think about the message the proposed Utah law sends to state residents about the value of humans when stacked up against man’s best friend. Stick a dog in the oven and get five years behind bars. Assault a teacher or abuse a child and, at least in the eyes of the law, a lesser sentence is required.
Those who torture animals are cruel, sadistic, and should be punished. However, the punishment should not be greater than harming a person. If Utah state legislators want to make it a third-degree felony to torture animals, they need to up the punishments for abusing and assaulting people as well.
People are more important than animals. This is something our laws should reflect and something the Utah legislators should keep in mind when they reconsider this bill next January.
Abel Keogh is the editor of You can email him here. His book, Room for Two, is now available. You can order a personalized copy here.

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: Response to Anti Voucher Supporters in the Salt Lake Tribune

Actuary321: 8/20/2007 1:26:00 PM

I am sorry but this one simply had to be responded to. >>> You want to know why teacher unions are against vouchers? It has nothing to do with protecting ourselves. Here are some reasons:

1. Utah has the most overcrowded classrooms in the country and the state ranks last in the nation in spending per student. Instead of diverting school funding to vouchers, Utahns should increase our investment in public schools. >>> For each student removed less than ½ of the funding for that student will be removed. The average amount spent per public school pupil will increase with vouchers. >>>

2. The flawed voucher law contains too many loopholes and unanswered questions, and provides little accountability for private voucher schools. >>> Private schools are much more accountable to parents than public schools. >>>

3. Unaccountable private voucher schools may hire teachers without a college degree or a state license. These unaccountable voucher schools don’t have to be accredited like public schools and don’t have to meet the same coursework or attendance standards that public schools must meet. >>> The law says the teachers must either “hold baccalaureate or higher degrees or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in the subjects taught.” And schools must “provide to parents the teaching credentials of the school's teachers and provide, upon request to any person, a statement indicating which, if any, organizations have accredited the private school.” Public schools have not requirement to provide that information to parents. And I think it is fairly na├»ve for anyone to think that parents will not hold the schools accountable based on the amount of tuition money, in addition to the vouchers, that they will be paying to the school. >>>

4. The lack of accountability or oversight of private schools opens the door to waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. >>> Hard to see how much more accountability public schools have. And since I would expect, because of the tuition costs in excess of the vouchers and the requirement virtually every private school I have ever seen of parental involvement, parents will hold private schools more accountable than they are able to hold public schools. >>>

5. Even though private schools are subject to very little accountability now, the new flawed legislation prohibits any further accountability of private schools in the future. There is no way to hold private voucher schools accountable to taxpayers. >>> Covered in 3 & 4 above. >>>

6. The state projects vouchers will cost the state $429 million over the next thirteen years. That is money that will not be available to assist the 96% of Utah’s children – 9 in 10 – who attend public school. >>> 96% is more than 9 in 10 but lets get back to the $$. What savings will be accrued by not having to pay the full amount for the students who get those $429 Million? Estimates I have seen are about $1.5 BILLION. I am usually willing to spend $1 to save $3. >>>

7. Vouchers won’t help the majority of Utah families anyway because more than half of Utah counties have NO private schools at all. >>> But the majority of Utah families don’t live in the half of Utah counties that have NO private schools. Remember there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. >>>

8. Even if an eligible student is chosen by a private voucher school, there is no guarantee that there will be a voucher available for that student now or in the future. Vouchers run out when the funds do. >>> Wait are you claiming that vouchers will be wildly popular now, after claiming pretty much the opposite in 6 & 7? Which is it? The more students that apply for vouchers the greater the savings. You think that if the money runs out this year, the legislature won’t look to increase it next year, thereby allowing more students to take advantage of it thereby generating even bigger savings (See 6 above). >>>

9. Even with a voucher, most Utah families will not be able to afford expensive private school tuition, which averages $8,000 per child per year. >>> Where did you get the $8,000? Have you looked at They give a figure of $3,316 for recipients of their scholarships. And again, I can’t tell if you are arguing that lots of people will take advantage, or few? >>>

10. Utah lawmakers provided $9.3 million in funding for vouchers in 2008. With a projected enrollment of 553,428 students that means less than 1% of students would receive an average voucher. >>> At the moment, I think there are probably not 5,534 private school seats open. But even if there are, you already argued that most Utah families will not be able to afford it anyway, even with the vouchers.

Your circular arguments are making me dizzy. But thanks for the opportunity to comment. I am not a voucher supporter, my kids are in public schools and I don’t intend on moving them. I am more inclined to vote against vouchers at the moment so please come up with better arguments so that I can back up my vote with well reasoned facts. Thanks.

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: NEA Press Release, Merit Pay NO How NO Way

WASHINGTON —Democrats running for President reject any mandatory pay-for-performance schemes as part of the reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The candidates also reject any plan to tie teacher pay to student test scores. The candidates stated their opposition to merit pay during a nationally televised debate in Des Moines, Iowa , where they also called for universal pre-school and an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act.
NEA President Reg Weaver believes the Democratic candidates for president show they understand what it takes to create great public schools for every child. The following statement can be attributed to Weaver:

“The Democratic Presidential candidates have the right instincts on merit pay. Pay for performance – so-called merit pay - undermines the collegial relationship among teachers, and there is no scientific evidence to show that merit pay plans improve student academic achievement.

“The 3.2 million members of the National Education Association hope the positions of the candidates are heard loud and clear by their party’s Congressional leadership.

“Democratic leaders in the US House of Representatives have said publicly that they intend to include pay for performance as an element of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act. NEA will oppose any legislative proposal that mandates implementation of a pay for performance plan.
“Teachers are underpaid, and NEA believes America should establish a minimum pay for public school teachers of $40,000, reward teachers who become nationally board certified, and provide additional pay to educators who teach in high poverty schools.”

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: 'Collegiality vs. Excellence, Or 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

August 21, 2007
Collegiality vs. Excellence, Or 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
I was going to blog about the Sunday debates between the Democratic presidential candidates, but it turns out the statement that the National Education Association (and its president Reg Weaver) put out afterward proved to be far more interesting than any of the carefully scripted/guarded comments that came out of the candidates' mouths.
(And in case you spent the weekend maniacally scrubbing your Wikipedia entry edits and missed the debate itself, you can watch the pertinent parts here. But trust me, there is nothing really there. Some words coming from candidates' mouths, but it's pretty much all bells and whistles baby. Even EdIn08's good cop only had nice things to say about the questioners, and not as much to say about the answers, displaying how low the bar has been set - even in Romerville.)
My take on the significance of the "so-called performance pay" discussion (and the NEA's subsequent public statement) is closer to the strand that David Hoff is following over at Education Week's NCLB: Act II blog. David noted that three of the candidates sit on a Senate committee that may be taking up the "so-called performance pay" issue as part of an eventual reauthorization of NCLB.
With that in mind, you can understand why the candidates are under so much pressure to be as boring as they are on education issues - even as a couple hundred thousand high school students prepare to become dropouts between now and the 2008 general election. The NEA's statement following the debates tells you a lot about what is happening behind the scenes, who really dominates the education discussion in this country, and why concepts like teacher "collegiality" almost always trump concepts like excellence, performance, etc. (And I'm probably reading too much into this, but it almost reads like a "Don't get too big for your reform-sounding britches" message to Barack Obama, who has called for merit pay, but only in cases where the teachers design the pay schemes.)

The NEA's audience here isn't the presidential candidates or the public at large. It is aimed squarely at members of Congress who dare cross the union by offering plans in NCLB to reward successful teachers for the hard work they do.

Congratulations Reg Weaver, for making it onto today's "DFER Quote of the Day."

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots ‘Williams' First Law of Blogging'

Williams' First Law of Blogging
The New York Sun has published what may be the first newspaper story ever about guest bloggers. It's a coup for, where for the past two weeks New York City Public Schools Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten have taken turns sitting in.I'll leave commentary on the substance to others, but I'd like to direct both Cerf and Weingarten to the section of the Sun story where Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform gives some crucial advice about blogging:"He said the art is to be lively and avoid dragging on. 'It's harder to do than many people may think,' he said."Be Lively and Avoid Dragging On.And, if I may, avoid comical disclaimers like "Opinions here are my own and not necessarily those of the United Federation of Teachers, where I serve as President."
Posted by Mike Antonucci on Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 07:47

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots ‘Heat up the Voucher fight'

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots ‘Heat up the Voucher fight'
If there were any doubts about the Utah Democratic Party's involvement in the anti-voucher movement, this quote was copied directly from the Utah Democrats Newsletter.

One thing I find quite interesting is the comment “We can help.)” So the Utah Democratic Party will help it’s members write letters to the editor in opposition to vouchers. Since a large majority of Utah Democrats are Teachers, Government workers (State, County, and Local) or work for the State Universities or colleges or somehow attached to the taxpayer tit, one would assume that they could write their own letters to the editor."Heat up the voucher fightThe anti-voucher campaign is getting underway, and while polls show opposition to vouchers is relatively strong, we can’t take anything for granted.

On Saturday,July 28th, Democrats all over the country will be standing up for their values and we are asking Utah Democrats to do the same by doing one or more of the following:
Write a letter to the editor of your local paperregarding your concerns about vouchers (We can help.)
Sign up to volunteer for Utahns for Public Schools by visiting their website at
Get 10 of your friends, family members and/or neighbors to contribute $25 to Utahns for Public Schools.
Utah Democrats came together in an attempt to stop this costly attempt to undermine public education when every single Democratic legislator voted against vouchers. We came together again to help support Utah values by placing vouchers on this November’s ballot."