Working at Cross Purposes

by Steve, January 16th, 2008

Here are my prepared remarks delivered to the Portland City Council Wednesday at Jefferson High School.

Good morning, and welcome to my neighborhood high school. I am truly honored to be here among some of Portland’s best and brightest young adults.

I appreciate the symbolism of City Hall coming to Jefferson High, and I would like to take the opportunity to focus your attention on a serious issue facing our schools and our city.

Eighteen months ago, auditors from the county and city issued a report on the Portland Public Schools student transfer policy. Their audit found the policy not only failed to mitigate ethnic and socio-economic segregation in the district, it actually made the problem worse. To date, the school board has not fully responded to this audit, which was a condition of the Multnomah County I-Tax.

As a parent of two young children in the district, I found this audit somewhat startling, and began to do my own investigation last summer. Using the district’s enrollment and transfer data, I found that segregation is just the tip of the iceberg.

It turns out that this transfer policy, which allows students to freely transfer between neighborhood schools, taking their funding with them, is responsible for a massive shift of public investment away from our neediest neighborhoods and into wealthier parts of town. In the 2006-07 school year, this amounted to a $43 million divestment from the parts of town that most need investment.

This is made worse by the fact that the district follows it with school closures and draconian program cuts, leaving us with a two-tiered system of public education. This inequity has reached a level that cannot be tolerated by a city that prides itself on equal opportunity and diversity.

I put together a report to the school board in September, and I’ve brought the final draft to share with you today. This report shows this pattern graphically, and recommends an equitable solution.

The reason I’m talking to you about this is that we have two governmental bodies with overlapping jurisdictions, whose policies are effectively working against one another. On the one hand, we have PPS policy that is divesting from our neediest neighborhoods and fragmenting communities by undermining neighborhood schools. On the other hand, we have valuable work being done by Commissioner Sten and the Bureau of Housing and Community Development, to try to reverse some of these effects.

We are clearly working at cross purposes.

So I’m asking you, as policy-making professionals, to exert influence on your partners at Portland Public Schools. They are unpaid volunteers, and they don’t necessarily have the policy expertise that you have. They need help and guidance to correct a policy that continues to divest from the neighborhoods we should be investing in.

The report I’ve given you and the school board outlines a sensible, phased plan to return balance to the school district’s public investment policy and bring it in line with city policy goals. I urge you to take the time to read it, and lobby the school board to do the right thing. Let’s end a system that punishes children based on the color of their skin and the neighborhoods they live in.

Thursday Thirteen from Wacky Mommy, Ed. #128: Thirteen Reasons Why I’m a Better Blogger Than Hockey God

by Wacky Mommy, January 16th, 2008

Hullo 13ers and All You Sexy Little Usual Suspects,

Here are Thirteen Reasons Why I, Wacky Mommy, Am A Better Blogger Than My Husband:

13) Sex talk. Honestly. How much of that do you get around here? So to speak.

12) I, Wacky Mommy, like to have my girlfriends drop by. (Virtually, and in person.) We can talk, cuddle, make goo-goo eyes at each other. Here? So much yelling. Ouch. I’m like, turn it down, it’s hurting my ears a tiny bit. Also, some of you commenters over here? Damn. All I can say is, Get yourself a blog. My commenters are all, Hit it and quit it, babe.

11) I am willing to share the details of our day-to-day life, even when my kids are protesting: Girl Scout cookies! Culinary magic! Advice columns! Sunday School updates! Big Love!

10) When is the last time he gave you a book review? Or any big love? Heh heh heh heh heh.

9) I am willing to blog nine times in one day if that’s what it takes to entertain you people. Frankly, I do not see that kind of commitment over here.

8) Does he know I’ve hijacked his blog and am posting this? No, he does not. He is putting the sweet little blonde children to bed as I’m typing. Thank God they have one responsible parent.

7) I have been at this longer than he has. It’s my blog’s third birthday on Valentine’s Day! Happy VD! Clap, everybody, clap!

6) Are you in it for the money, honey? Yes. I think my ads keep the site lively. I never know what the heck is going to pop up. Anytime I bring up ads (ie — Why won’t you put some on your site, Hockey God?) he’s all, “Ethics,” yadda yadda, “You’re a commercial whore,” yadda yadda, “What won’t you do for a buck, damn,” etc. (He does sell more T-shirts than I do though.) (Not that I’m keeping track.)

5) Do you find the sailor-talk over here? No, not so much.

4) Do you get General Hospital updates from him occasionally? That’s right, that’s only over at my place. (Why am I posting here, you ask? I’m selling Girl Scout cookies on my site, I cannot add a new post up top. JUST KIDDING. That would be AGAINST POLICY.) (What do the Girl Scouts do if you break policy, anyway? Chuck Thin Mints at you until you promise to shape up?)

3) Hmm. I’m thinking, he does have MetBlogs going on, too. And his full-time job, doing whatever it is he does in between going for coffee, playing hockey and playing ping-pong. And when he’s here, he’s building castle beds, taking care of the kids, saving the world, one school at a time. Maybe I should cut him a break. Yeah, maybe not.

2) He does not have quite the flair that I do for the English language. That certain je nais se qua. See? French, too!

1) He never ever ever writes Thursday Thirteens anymore.



Wacky Mommy has her own blog. Sometimes one blog is just not enough for her.

Intolerable Inequity

by Steve, January 15th, 2008

Here are my prepared remarks to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education, delivered January 14, 2008 regular meeting at Jefferson High School.

Thank you for being here, and welcome to what I would like to be my children’s high school.

We’ve finally reached a clear consensus within the district that Jefferson needs to be a comprehensive high school. This is what the Jefferson community has been asking for for years. It is refreshing to finally be on the same page, and I think we should recognize that this new openness springs from the administration of superintendent Smith, as well as from the Jefferson administration.

But let’s be honest. This is a very small first step, even if it is in the right direction. We need to make sure we have the proper momentum to carry through when the eyes of the city are no longer upon us.

Comprehensive doesn’t just mean tearing down the walls between the academies. And it doesn’t just mean adding a couple of AP classes.

To most of us who went to public high school, comprehensive means a school that serves the full range of students, from vocational education through advanced placement. And not just that, but exciting and interesting electives too.

You don’t have to look far for this kind of school. Wilson High has it all. Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Franklin look pretty good, too.

But here on this side of town, and in a crescent from St. Johns through outer northeast and into outer southeast Portland, we might as well be living on a different planet. The district’s transfer policy divests over $40 million annually from these parts of town, leaving us with gutted programs and shuttered neighborhood schools.

This school district is fraught with intolerable, glaring inequity. And Jefferson High School is ground zero for that.

In spite of this, we have some of the most creative, resilient students in the city at Jefferson. They are doing it by sheer force of will, because this city can’t see fit to provide them with the opportunities it offers students in wealthier neighborhoods.

Let’s be clear. The students are not failing at Jefferson. Jefferson is not a failing school. This district and this city have failed Jefferson and its community. The segregation and inequities are obvious to anybody who cares to look. As the policy makers responsible for this, you should be ashamed for Portland.

Yes, let’s start by tearing down the walls that currently constrain our students in academic silos. But let’s also tear down the much larger wall in this city that separates rich from poor, black from white, the haves from the have nots.

This is not Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. This is Portland, Oregon, 2008.

I think I speak for most of my neighbors when I say: We’ve had enough. The time has come for real change in the way we distribute our public investment. Let’s start with Jefferson, and make it a model, comprehensive high school we all can be proud of. But let’s keep the ball rolling in the Roosevelt, Madison, and Marshall clusters as well. We need equitable, strong, comprehensive schools in all of our neighborhoods, not just the white, middle class ones. The time is now.

A Citizen’s Guide to the Mayor’s Week at Jefferson High

by Steve, January 10th, 2008

Hey, guess what? Mayor Tom Potter is moving city hall to Jefferson High School next week (Monday, January 14 through Friday, January 18). Not to be outdone, the school board will have their regular board meeting there, too. There are a number of opportunities to be involved in this historic event. Here’s the full schedule (163 KB PDF) from the mayor’s office.

I will be speaking both at the school board meeting Monday night (7 p.m. in the auditorium) and at the city council meeting Wednesday (9:30 a.m. in the auditorium). I will also attend the Mayor’s State of the City address on Friday (11:30 a.m. reception, 12:15 event, in the auditorium) and plan to submit a written question to the mayor.

The school board meeting follows the normal protocol, in that citizens may comment on any agenda items the board will vote on before they vote, and may comment at the end of the meeting for anything else. There is an information item on the agenda about Jefferson Cluster Schools, but no vote. So my remarks will be at the end of the meeting. If you want to speak, contact the board office at 503-916-3741, or you may sign up on site before the meeting. (Once the meeting starts, the sign-up sheet is removed.) The agenda (PDF) is available from the school board’s Web site.

For the city council meeting, there are five slots available on the agenda for “Communications,” which are limited to three minutes, and can be on any topic. The deadline for signing up for Communications has passed, but I have reserved my spot and will be speaking between 9:30 and 9:45. There will also be opportunities for citizen comment during the first agenda item, which is all about Jefferson High. You must sign up in person for public testimony. A sign-up sheet will be available one half hour before the meeting, and testimony is limited to three minutes. You can contact the council clerk’s office with any questions about the protocol. There is also an evening council session, beginning at 6 p.m., with more opportunities for citizen testimony.

The State of the City address is free for general admission seating, or you can get $5 reserved seats from the City Club. Unlike most City Club Friday Forums, club members will not have the opportunity to ask questions in person. Instead, all audience members will be given the opportunity to submit written questions, and the Mayor and his staff will select questions to answer from those submitted.

Other opportunities for civic involvement include a Tuesday night PPS facilities community meeting (7-9:30 p.m.), and a Jefferson PTSA CommUnity Night Thursday (6-8 p.m.).

CommUnity Night will feature opportunities to talk with superintendent Carole Smith, Mayor Tom Potter, and Jefferson principal Cynthia Harris, and lots of stuff for kids big and small. Free child care is available, with entertainment by Penny’s Puppets, face painting, story time and more.

You can also come out to show your support for Jefferson’s student athletes all week long: boys basketball vs. Cleveland (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.), girls basketball vs. Lincoln (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.), wrestling vs. Marshall (Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) and boys basketball vs. Grant with a special half-time show featuring your elected officials (Friday, 7:30 p.m.). Go Demos!

My message throughout the week is simple: The students at Jefferson are not failing, and Jefferson is not failing the students. The entire city of Portland is failing Jefferson, its students, and the greater community it once served. Nobody can look at the state of Jefferson High, compare it to the comprehensive high schools at Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Franklin, and deny that we have a grossly inequitable system in place. The school board bears the most responsibility for this, but the city council also must be held accountable for allowing things to get so bad.

The way forward is clear: fully fund Jefferson as a single, comprehensive school serving the entire Jefferson CommUnity. It is simple, obvious, and the right thing to do. The future of our city is at stake. Let’s hold our elected leaders and their hired administrators accountable and demand equity for our North and Northeast Portland children and young adults.

The Big Picture on Charter Schools in N/NE Portland

by Zarwen, January 10th, 2008

It all started with this comment right here on this blog:

“You know, Hockeygod, it just struck me that something missing from your latest edition of the map are the CHARTER SCHOOLS. How many of THOSE are in the red zone???”

As regular visitors know, Steve’s red-and-green maps unleashed a firestorm of debate about the district’s transfer policy and equity in the schools. Most of the debate has centered on the neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfer issue, which has probably been exacerbated in the parts of town, especially North and inner Northeast, that have been hardest hit with neighborhood school closures. These same parts of town, interestingly enough, are now home to more charter schools, former charter schools, and charter school proposals than any other part of town. Hence the map with the color-coded dots. If you look at where schools were closed and where charters were opened, you might just question whether it’s all coincidence. For purposes of this article, I will be focusing primarily on the Jefferson and Roosevelt Cluster areas.
A quick rundown on the closed neighborhood schools in those areas, which are represented by red dots on the map:

  1. Kennedy School (K-8), 5736 NE 33rd. Closed in 1975. Sold to the McMenamins in the 1990’s.
  2. Columbia School (K-8 until 1969, then 4-8), 716 NE Marine Dr. First closed in 1978. Reopened from 1981-83 for grades 6-8. Then used from 1983-86 as temporary housing for students whose neighborhood schools were being renovated. It has since been used as district offices and a county-run alternative high school.
  3. Adams High School, 5700 NE 39th. First closed in June 1981, but reopened in 1983 as Whitaker Middle School. Closed again in 2001 when the building was condemned due to environmental hazards. Children were dispersed to “Whitaker Lakeside” (see below) and Rice Elementary Schools, neither of which was particularly close by the condemned site. (Had Kennedy not been sold, it would have been the nearest and most sensible choice.) Adams was torn down last year; the District is planning to sell off a portion of the land.
  4. Meek Elementary, 4039 NE Albert Ct. Closed in 2003. Has since been remodeled and reopened as Joseph Meek Technical High School, the current incarnation of Vocational Village School (which, interestingly enough, previously occupied another closed elementary, Glenhaven, on NE 82nd Ave. That location was sold to a veterinary practice!).
  5. “Old” Whitaker (originally K-8), 5135 NE Columbia Blvd. First closed in 1981 and children relocated to Columbia School (see above); leased to MESD for an alternative HS until it was reopened in 2001 as “Whitaker Lakeside” (6-8), due to the condemnation of the “new” Whitaker (see above). Closed again in 2005, when students were “consolidated” at Ockley Green, over 4 miles away. Currently the home of an alternative HS once again, this one operated by NAYA, a social services agency for Native Americans. The Oregonian reported that NAYA intends to buy the building within the next three years.
  6. Kenton Elementary, 7528 N. Fenwick. Closed in 2005. Now a Catholic high school via long-term lease, which is why it is shown with two different colored dots on the map.
  7. Applegate Elementary, 7650 N. Commercial. Closed in 2005. The District claims to be looking for a tenant but declined offers from at least two charter schools.
  8. Eliot School (K-8), 2231 N. Flint. First closed in 1984; children sent to Boise, which we know as Boise-Eliot today. Remodeled and reopened in 1985 for the relocation of Harriet Tubman Middle School, a neighborhood/magnet hybrid, which had been temporarily sited at the current da Vinci Middle School from 1980-85. Closed again in June 2007 and reopened in September as an all-girls 6-12 focus option academy.
  9. Clarendon Elementary, 9325 N. Van Houten. Closed in June 2007.

*Humboldt was also targeted for closure in the recent past; concerned citizens lobbied successfully to keep it open, but the District is now talking about absorbing it into the Jefferson campus. (Didn’t we ring around that rosy back in 2005 when Vicki Phillips proposed making Jeff into a 7-12 school and parents overwhelmingly rejected the idea?)

The reason given for all of the above closures was “declining enrollment.” I acknowledge that a few on the list are not recent, but I believe that the fallout from those closures of decades ago is still with us today, so that is why I have included them here.

And now a rundown of the charter schools in this area, represented by black dots:

  1. McCoy Academy (6-12), 3802 NE MLK Blvd. Formerly a private alternative school before reopening as a charter in 2000. Closed in 2002 for failing to fulfill its charter.
  2. Trillium K-12, 5420 N. Interstate Ave. Opened in 2002.
  3. Self-Enhancement Inc. Academy 6-8, 3920 N. Kerby. Opened in 2004.
  4. Portland Village Public Charter K-8, 7654 N. Delaware. Opened in 2007.
  5. Ivy School 1-8, 4212 NE Prescott. Application recently rejected by the Portland School Board; future uncertain. Organized by board members of a private Montessori school located around the corner from the proposed Ivy site.
  6. New Harvest K-12, 7025 N Lombard. Application recently rejected by the Portland School Board; future uncertain.

*Although two proposed charter schools listed above have been rejected by the school board, they do have the right to appeal to the State Department of Education; I do not know whether either group has plans to do so. I would be grateful for any responses to this piece that include updates on these proposed charters. The addresses given here for those schools represent their proposed locations.

**The former Victory Middle School charter, sponsored by the State Department of Education, was located at 4824 NE 20th Ave. from 2003-2006. Like McCoy Academy, its charter was revoked due to lack of fulfillment. (Details may be found here.) While the Portland School Board deserves credit for repeatedly denying Victory’s charter applications, I am making mention of Victory because of its contribution (along with the other charters listed, as well as numerous other factors that deserve articles of their own) to the demise of neighborhood schools in this area.

The green dots on the map represent private schools; I asked Steve to include them here as a reflection of the local school-aged population, school closures notwithstanding. While it is true that private and charter schools do not have a limited catchment area as neighborhood schools do, it is also true that the majority of any school’s enrollment will come from within a 3-mile radius. With that in mind, what was the rationale for opening 4 schools (6 if you count the Catholic school at Kenton and the NAYA school at Old Whittaker) in the same area you closed 9? Obviously there must be some children in those neighborhoods that need schools nearby! (What was that about “declining enrollment” again?)

Other rationales might be discerned in how charter schools differ from neighborhood schools (and most other public schools):

  1. Charter schools can set their own admissions criteria and thereby select their student bodies. Neighborhood schools must accept all children who live within their catchment areas, regardless of abilities or needs.
  2. Charter schools are allowed to deviate from curricula established by the local school district as long as they outline their plans in their charters. Their “success rate” is then measured against the charters.
  3. Charter schools are funded at 80% of the per-pupil rate of other public schools. The charter is expected to fundraise or do without the other 20%, which the school district is allowed to keep. Thus, they are cheaper to run than regular public schools.
  4. At other public schools, all teachers must be certified by the state. At charter schools, only 50% of the teaching staff must be certified; the school can set its own hiring criteria for the other half. So, theoretically, half the teachers at charter schools don’t even have to be high school graduates.
  5. The employees of a charter school are not required to join the local union that represents all similar employees in the district. (This affects not only teachers but also secretaries, custodians, etc.) Therefore, the charter school is not required to honor any union contracts in effect in the district. Consequently, charter school employees are usually paid less than their counterparts and may not have benefits such as sick leave or health insurance.

This last point leads me to my charge of union busting. Take a look at the map: close 9 neighborhood schools, open 4 charters, have union-free schools and save $ because half the charter teachers don’t have to be certified and will work for peanuts. Do it in the part of town where (you assume) people are least likely to protest. To be fair, the way the state law governing charter schools is written makes it difficult for the District to say no—and the state can overrule them when they do, as they did with Victory and Southwest Charters (see above and below).

Now, I am not a conspiracy theorist (as a few have charged), nor do I think that charters should be banned. As with most programs, individual charters may be the best match for some children and their families, and I firmly believe they deserve a place, right along with focus options, alternative schools, and other programs that do not fit into the neighborhood school model. In other words, I believe that charters, like focus options and alternative schools, should be supplements to, not replacements for, neighborhood schools. What concerns me is how many of these charters have been crammed into one part of town right on the heels of multiple neighborhood school closures and upheaval within the remaining schools. It’s hard not to consider, even if only for a moment, that PPS was using “declining enrollment” as an excuse to close union schools and replace them with non-union schools.

The parents who are helping organize these charters probably don’t even realize that they’re party to any union-busting, because all they are thinking about is getting a school back in their neighborhood to replace the one they lost, and opening a charter gives them a means to do that. For further evidence, consider these: Leadership and Entrepreneurship Public Charter High School (LEP) at 2044 E. Burnside is near the former Washington-Monroe HS, which was sold for condos in 2007. Over on westside, there’s the new, state-sponsored Southwest Charter elementary, spearheaded by a group of families from the now-closed Smith School. (They wanted to lease the Smith building, but the district refused; that building is still empty today.) And in Southeast, you’ll find the Arthur Academy Charter elementary halfway between the now-closed Wilcox and Youngson Schools. (Youngson was later reopened for special ed. programs; Wilcox is leased to an alternative program.) Prior to Arthur Academy, the same building housed the Garden Laboratory Charter, which lasted only one year. Lastly, the PPS School Board recently rejected a new charter application for inner Southeast, not far from the now-closed Edwards School (which is currently leased to MESD for a Head Start program). And it’s not even confined to Portland; check out this story from Lincoln County.

I should add that PPS is not new at union-busting activity. Back in the 90’s, both Jefferson and Humboldt were “reconstituted” in violation of the teachers’ contract. And in 2003, PPS teachers agreed to work 10 days for free just so they could keep their health insurance benefits intact. I believe it was that same year that the custodians’ jobs were outsourced. This last issue has recently made the news again because the District is adding insult to injury with their abominable “negotiations” of the custodians’ contract. Whether we want to face it or not, charter schools provide a convenient way for the District to weaken the unions in the name of saving money and offering more “choices” to families that can manage the logistics.

Now, there are plenty of folks out there who are probably thinking that weakening the unions is a good thing. For that matter, why not just do away with them altogether? Think of the money that could be saved on wages and benefits, money that could be used to hire more teachers and shrink class sizes, just the way the charters are doing! I’d like to take these folks for a walk down memory lane:

Teaching did not become a unionized profession until the 1960’s: rather recently compared to many other fields. Prior to then, the teaching force was comprised almost completely of women (it is still majority women today, but a smaller majority), not because women are collectively better at teaching or like it better, but because a man could not support a family on a teacher’s salary then. Teachers of the pre-union era had little in the way of health or pension benefits unless they were married to someone else who had some. They didn’t even get a real lunch break because they were expected to eat with and supervise the children during the lunch period. They could be fired for getting pregnant. For that matter, they could be fired without cause or due process. I could go on, but I hope you all get the idea.

So, to all of you anti-union folks out there, I’d like to say, GET REAL! How many college graduates would be willing to work under such conditions today? The fact that teachers now make a living wage, health benefits and pensions is directly due to union advocacy nationwide. When charters start having difficulty hiring college-educated, state-certified teachers, maybe they’ll persuade the state to reduce the requirement from 50% to 40%. Over time it could be reduced to 30%, 20% and so on. In the meantime, unions will have ever greater difficulty bargaining for living wages and benefits because the public will be saying that it just costs too much, and if the charter school teachers don’t need that much money, why should anyone?

The current proliferation of union-free charter schools has opened the door to send the teaching profession on a U-turn to the 1930’s. Is this the direction in which we want to send the teaching profession in the future? No living wages even with a college education, no job security, no benefits? Is that the message we want to send to today’s children who might want to grow up to be teachers?

Didn’t think so. And, finally, it looks as if the Portland School Board might be starting to agree. They rejected the last four charter applications they reviewed.

Zarwen is a parent, taxpayer, former teacher, and frequent commenter on education blogs.

Sho’s In

by Steve, January 7th, 2008

It’s great to see Sho Dozono entering the Portland mayor’s race. I’m not lining up behind him just yet, but I’m pretty happy to see somebody who can challenge Sam Adams’ sense of inevitability.

Culture Fix

by Steve, January 5th, 2008

I got my culture fix last night at Third Rail Rep‘s Shining City. I reviewed it over at MetroBlogging Portland.

A Bad Case of Iowa Envy

by Benson Williams, January 5th, 2008

So who’s the big winner coming out of Iowa? Is it Obama? The Democratic Party? Change Agents? Christian right-wingers? Media consultants? Those-who-dare-to-hope?

I guess it depends on what your definition of “winner” is. America, the perennial nation of winners, is beholden to those who strive for victory – and then achieve it. Only winners matter. So with so much on the line psychically in our country right now, a win could really do us some good. Had you slept through the past year of media coverage and awoken on Tuesday to hear Barack the Blessed’s quasi-bombast from the winner’s podium that evening, you would be forgiven if you had assumed that he had just captured his party’s nomination for the presidency. When his voice soared to capture the heights of our capacity to dream, one could detect a resonant, uvular MLK trill in his speech that seemed directed at those of us who dare to dream his dream (aka South Carolina black voters). Our desperate need for a brand new president has us banking on an image and relying on an age-old political system founded on corporate backing and fealty to Wall Street. These are troubling times, and more than ever, it’s the message that counts. Stated policy initiatives and voting records are mere detritus that crumbles into meaninglessness as the candidates wiggle into our amygdalae and down our brain stems, looking to ignite that sweet glow of righteousness inside of us. Their politically-connected advisors and power-brokers are, along with the minions of the media noise machine, just names on a credit roll too fast for our eyes to discern.

I’d like to propose the one really big winner of the Iowa caucuses: the State of Iowa itself. Not average Iowans by any means, but the various factions, consultants, contractors, political flunkies and partisan luminaries that have had the good fortune to cash in on the record-breaking bonanza of campaign expenditures showered upon the unassuming state. By any estimation, Iowa has in the past year been the beneficiary of a financial fiesta that has dwarfed the take during any of its prior caucus seasons. Much attention has been paid to the intensity of the political circus that Iowans have been subjected to this past year, and there is no question that it has left its mark – if you know someone in Iowa, you know that they will never be the same again. But the din of media voices complaining of Iowa’s outsized role in the presidential selection process (hereafter referred to as Iowa Envy) misses the point entirely when it grumbles about how small, how white, or how just plain middling the state is.

The great American Political RoadShow is a production with an agenda of its own, and challenging outside voices are decidedly unwelcome. To participate in the horse race, you have pay the entrance fee. The front-runners made sure to pay up before they got in, and they continue to pay their dues as the act moves on to New Hampshire. Oh how giddy those pundits, politicos, and prognosticators would be – the ones with a bad case of Iowa Envy – were the RoadShow to premiere in their own backyard. The influence and the cash would be sufficient to motivate any state to protect its first-in-the-nation pork pie status. Who needs a tourist industry when you’ve got millions of dollars of outside money pouring into your tiny state each month for almost an entire year? And all Iowans have to do is “take their coveted role seriously”.

I admit it – I like to hear the words “corporate greed machine” when John Edwards speaks. I like to hear Obama speak of a united America, and I like it when Hillary Clinton characterizes the vice president as Darth Vader. These candidates are all speaking to folks like me when they make these remarks; the money spent on market research is paying off. But what I’d really like to hear from one of them is commentary the likes of which Dennis Kucinich delivered recently on PBS when he fingered the influential Des Moines insurance industry for keeping him out of the highly-visible Des Moines Register debate due to his lone support of not-for-profit universal health care for all Americans. That’s the kind of talk – speaking of brain stems – that really gets me fired up.

So go ahead – put the first-in-the-nation primary contest in your own racially diverse and populous state. You’ll be thrilled with your new status, with your shiny new suit, and with all the attention that the young female voters in your state will receive when they “inexplicably” flock to the cause of the senator from Illinois. All you need is spare hotel room capacity, some evenly distributed Starbucks franchises, and a few Thai restaurants to keep the hordes of media nitwits fed. The rest is gravy. You too can be a winner. Just make sure to call the coin while it’s in the air, because the rest of us will be watching on TV.

Benson is a writer and translator who resides in the Twin Cities.

For McAngryPants

by Steve, January 4th, 2008

…who evidently thinks I should allow commenters to embed youtube videos. (No friggin’ way, hoser!) Stompin’ Tom Connors — The Hockey Song

Craving Culture?

by Steve, January 4th, 2008

I know I am, so I’m heading to the theatre tonight. Here’s a little Bartok to tide you (me) over. The Ammadeus Quartet plays Bartok’s String Quartet number four, fourth movement.