Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The lesson of Tom Corbett

The teachers' strikes that are sweeping through red states are starting to have an effect on elections in those states. It seems like, once again, we are learning that the limits of the public's ability to tolerate tax slashing "small government" conservatism is with public schools. Even in conservative areas, if you fuck with the primary, middle and secondary schools, the electorate will punish you.

That phenomenon played out here in Pennsylvania earlier in the decade. When Tom Corbett was elected governor in 2010, he felt he had a mandate to slash education budgets to allow tax cuts. Maybe he thought education cuts would be no different from other cuts Pennsylvanian Republicans had championed over the years. He was wrong. After he slashed public school funding, Corbett became one of the least popular governors in the country. Even in the "red" parts of the state, Corbett was associated with deeply unpopular education cuts. As I said in the summer of 2014, Corbett was going to lose reelection (and no PA governor had ever lost a reelection bid before) because of his education cuts. Corbett ended up losing by nearly 10 points.

Many Republicans tried to attribute Corbett's loss in a year when Republicans otherwise did so well to his involvement in the Penn State child abuse case. But that did not jive with what I was seeing and hearing about Corbett when he was in office. People were talking a lot about Corbett, and when they talked about him they were mostly talking about how he was destroying their child's/grandchild's/niece's/nephew's school, or making it hard for a teacher who was a friend or family member.

I wonder if the teacher's strikes are forcing Republicans to learn the same lesson that Corbett Republicans leaned four years ago. People will tolerate all kinds of cuts to services provided they think those other people, like welfare cheats, or inner city criminals (i.e. black people), are the ones who are taking the hit. But education hits a broad swath of people in most socio-economic circumstances in all parts of the state, whether red or blue. Public schools are the new third rail.