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Est. April 5, 2002
September 22, 2016 - Issue 667

The 2016 U.S. Presidential
NC and NJ Elections
An Inside View

"For the next six weeks, the presidential
race and two state races, North Carolina
and New Jersey (whose gubernatorial race
will be on the ballot in 2017) will be used
as proxies for the privatization
threats to public education."

The November 2016 election season at the national and state levels will be the most consequential for public school teachers in a generation. The presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has sharp contrasts in their approaches to public education. Clinton has committed to a plan “… that informs … intelligence on education and the wisdom to seek out counsel from education experts: public school teachers” and to properly funds public education. Trump said he would use $20 billion in existing federal funding to give … states in the form of a block grant,” with states expected to add another $120 billion. All of this money would be allocated to private school vouchers and unaccountable corporate charter schools.

At the state level, twelve governors’ races will be on the ballot: eight held by Democrats (MT, OR, WA, DE, MO, WV, ND, and VT) and four held by Republicans (NC, UT, IN, and ND). For now, Democrats are projected to pick up two governorships—North Carolina and Indiana, and to hold on to the eight they already hold.

For the next six weeks, the presidential race and two state races, North Carolina and New Jersey (whose gubernatorial race will be on the ballot in 2017) will be used as proxies for the privatization threats to public education. Although New Jersey is a traditional blue state, it has been headed by a Republican governor since 2009, and he has systematically dismantled and de-funded public education with the assistance of the Democratically-controlled legislature through its political bosses.

Donald Trump in recent days has received the endorsement and support of two key members of the Cartel for the private reform of public education and the larger public sector: billionaires Joe Ricketts and Sheldon Adelson, who have committed nearly $50 million to ensure his election. In Trump, they see a strong ally and a kindred spirit in their effort to privatize America at every level. He has championed massive tax cuts, a deregulated business environment, and a privatized system of public education, where Cartel members will reap handsome profits. Hillary Clinton is the sole presidential candidate with a robust public education agenda.

In order to gain a comprehensive perspective on the status of the races, field work and off-the-record discussions with elected officials, legislative staff, and political operatives were and are being conducted in the states and nationally.

North Carolina is in the throes of heated battles for the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat (held by a two-term Republican incumbent which was initially considered safe), and Hillary Clinton is leading in the averaged polls to carry the state’s 15 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have only carried the state twice in the last forty years, 1992 (Bill Clinton) and 2008 (Barack Obama).

Incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is on political life support as teachers and other public education stakeholders have mobilized hundreds of thousands of voters, causing McCrory to lag behind his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, by eight points, which has held steady for the past three months. McCrory’s most recent snafu has been his unyielding support of the anti-transgender HB2 bathroom bill which has energized both Democrats and Republicans to oppose him.

This effort has been coupled with the Moral Monday movement, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber, North Carolina State NAACP President, who has led protests against Voter ID, income inequality, and other social issues for the past five years, gaining a national following. State legislators and staff persons on both sides of the aisle have privately acknowledged that the Republican governorship, the presidential election, and possibly the U.S. Senate seat will go to the Democrats. These victories will stop the aggressive attack on teachers and the rapid privatization of public education.

New Jersey, whose governor’s race will not be held until November 2017, already has Phil Murphy, former Ambassador to Germany in the Obama Administration (the only announced candidate, who has a solid organization in every New Jersey county and is picking up endorsements from a cross-section of Democratic leaders); two state Senators, Steve Sweeney, Senate President, and Ray Lesniak, who chairs the Economic Growth Committee (and is scheduled to announce his candidacy next week); state Assemblyman, John Wisniewski, Chair of the New Jersey State Democratic Committee; and Steve Fulop, Mayor of Jersey City, jockeying for the position.

Last week, it was stated that there were only three serious candidates: Sen. Sweeney (the lead candidate backed by South Jersey political boss, George Norcross); Mayor Fulop, who has abandoned, for now, his longstanding support for corporate charter schools and other strategies to privatize public education in a ploy to gain the support of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), that is currently at war with Sen. Sweeney over his refusal to advance the constitutional referendum for the state to fund its share of teacher pensions.

Murphy has been endorsed by 37th District Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, the highest ranking African American Democratic elected official in New Jersey to do so to date; his colleague, 37th District Assemblywoman Laura Zucker, Teaneck Democratic Chair; and Elmwood Park municipal and city council officials. What is most interesting about these back-to-back-to-back endorsements is that Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who also represents the District, has mentored and is a close ally of both Johnson and Zucker.

Weinberg, the Senate’s majority leader and allegedly a supporter of Sen. Sweeney, is playing it close to the vest so far. Many question whether Johnson or Zucker would come out this early for Murphy if Weinberg had not given them the nod. (She also attended the town hall where Johnson announced his backing of Murphy). But what is becoming apparent is that Murphy has gained a strong foothold in Bergen County with its rich trove of Democratic votes, and is the only untainted supporter of teachers and public education in the race.

The back-channel talk is that several of the senior Democratic legislators are holding back in choosing a candidate to support for governor because they are uncomfortable with their leader, Steve Sweeney. Their worry is that if they go all in for Sweeney and if he is elected, he will not really be the governor; they fear that his ventriloquist, George Norcross, will dictate legislative bills and policy through his political puppet, Sweeney.

Senior Democrats saw Norcross’s hand in Sweeney’s eleventh hour refusal “… to secure a public payment pension question (for teachers) on the 2016 ballot, and then lashing out at the NJEA in a letter to law enforcement,” thus double-crossing NJEA on a deal that was believed to be sealed. They had informed the union that they would vote for the provision until Sweeney used his power as president to yank it at the last minute, postponing any movement on pensions for another year and causing many of them political embarrassment after they had given their word. Sweeney claimed that the decision was based on his need to settle the transportation issue, but everyone knows this is a hoax.

Meantime, teachers and their union officials are outraged as they have supported Sweeney through several elections. Many insiders now view Sweeney as falling into third place among the three Democratic frontrunners. Norcross and Sweeney are calculating that they will be able to get more than twenty-five percent of the votes in a four-way primary, forcing the unions to get on board in the general election.

However, Murphy is gaining such traction in the big six counties (Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union) where Democrats need to perform well and where most of the votes are, especially Essex and Bergen, that he may upend the Norcross-Sweeney scheme. And Fulop, if he locks up the NJEA endorsement could reap a lion’s share of the votes from its 200,000 members. It appears that the gubernatorial election is turning into a two person race with Sweeney on the outside looking in. The fight is on!

These national and state-level races will determine the direction of support for teachers and the survival of public education. We will track the ups and downs until Election Day.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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