Ho­gan and Fran­chot: Pro­files in pan­der­ing

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Eric Luedtke Eric Luedtke, a Demo­crat, is a mem­ber of the Mary­land House of Del­e­gates rep­re­sent­ing Mont­gomery County. His email is er­ic­for­mary­land@gmail.com.

Six years ago, when I was a fresh­man mem­ber of the House of Del­e­gates, I got a visit from one of Comptroller Peter Fran­chot’s staff mem­bers. He was there to lobby me on an ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated bill the comptroller had been push­ing. The goal was ac­tu­ally one I sup­ported, but I didn’t sup­port the method he wanted to use to get there. I spent half an hour talk­ing to his staffer about why Mr. Fran­chot’s plan wasn’t a good idea, draw­ing on my ex­pe­ri­ence as a class­room teacher. Fi­nally, af­ter I’d coun­tered ev­ery ar­gu­ment he had to of­fer, he looked at me and said, “But, Eric, it polls re­ally well.” I po­litely ended the meet­ing.

There are two types of politi­cians. The first is per­haps best ex­em­pli­fied in John F. Kennedy’s book “Pro­files in Courage.” It tells the story of lead­ers across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and through­out Amer­i­can his­tory who were will­ing to sac­ri­fice their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers to do the right thing. Like Sam Houston, who lost his seat as a sen­a­tor for op­pos­ing fur­ther ex­pan­sion of slav­ery and re­signed as gover­nor rather than join the Con­fed­er­acy. We might call these courage­politi­cians, peo­ple who be­lieve strongly in do­ing what’s right, even if it hurts them po­lit­i­cally. I serve with many of them in Annapolis, both Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

The other kind of politi­cian will say or do any­thing to make him­self or her­self more pop­u­lar. The pan­derer. These politi­cians ig­nore the fact that mak­ing good pub­lic pol­icy is enor­mously com­plex. They avoid dis­cussing the un­in­tended con­se­quences of their ac­tions. They dodge tough ques­tions, and they at­tack those who dare to stand up to them. For Gov. Larry Ho­gan, that means call­ing teach­ers thugs. For Mr. Fran­chot, when he spoke in fa­vor of the post-La­bor Day start bill in my com­mit­tee two years ago, it was claim­ing that only ed­u­ca­tional “elites” could op­pose it. I think Mary­land’s teach­ers are elite, but I’m pretty sure that the comptroller meant it in a dif­fer­ent way than I do.

So the gover­nor de­clared this week that he will is­sue an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing ev­ery school sys­tem in the state to start af­ter La­bor Day and end be­fore June 15. And Comptroller Fran­chot was stand­ing be­side him cheer­ing. Nei­ther is will­ing to an­swer ques­tions about the con­se­quences. Tens of thou­sands of Mary­land fam­i­lies will have to scrape to­gether enough money for one or two more weeks of child care. As a teacher, I had stu­dents who would show up at the end of the sum­mer skin­nier — be­cause they didn’t get enough food over the sum­mer — and like thou­sands of their peers they will have to wait longer to get the school break­fasts and lunches they rely on. Many kids, par­tic­u­larly kids whose fam­i­lies can’t af­ford fancy sum­mer camps and tu­tors, will have an­other two weeks to for­get what they learned the pre­vi­ous school year, mean­ing they have to spend more time in re­view be­fore learn­ing new ma­te­rial. Spring breaks may dis­ap­pear. And teach­ers will be scram­bling to pre­pare kids for AP and high school grad­u­a­tion tests whose dates are fixed in the spring.

Even the method the gover­nor used is prob­lem­atic. Gover­nor Ho­gan is uni­lat­er­ally over­rid­ing the will of lo­cal school boards, PTAs, stu­dents and teach­ers who de­velop the cal­en­dars in their in­di­vid­ual coun­ties. Lo­cal con­trol of schools is a ba­sic Amer­i­can value that’s been a guid­ing prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion since the first schools were started. Par­ents and teach­ers in Fred­er­ick and Cum­ber­land and La Plata and Tow­son are much bet­ter placed to make de­ci­sions like these than one man in a man­sion in Annapolis. And by do­ing it through an ex­ec­u­tive or­der, the gover­nor is rob­bing the cit­i­zens of Mary­land of the chance to weigh in on a ma­jor pol­icy be­fore it is en­acted. He is cir­cum­vent­ing the demo­cratic process.

So with all of these rea­son­able con­cerns about a statewide man­date, why would the gover­nor and the comptroller be push­ing it? They’ve been pretty open about it. It polls well.

I’ve no­ticed that too. At first blush, many Mary­lan­ders like the idea of start­ing school af­ter La­bor Day, in­clud­ing a num­ber of my con­stituents who have spo­ken to me about it. But Mary­land vot­ers are smart, and when they hear about the prob­lems with such a shift, many of those con­stituents have changed their minds — be­cause they care about the eco­nomic im­pacts on fam­i­lies or be­cause they un­der­stand that it un­der­mines our moral obli­ga­tion to pro­vide a good ed­u­ca­tion to ev­ery kid, or be­cause theysim­ply don’t like the gover­nor try­ing to take ac­tion with­out in­put from Mary­lan­ders.

I doubt that ei­ther the gover­nor or comptroller will ad­dress these many con­cerns. In­stead, they will prob­a­bly de­mo­nize those who op­pose them and hope that vot­ers who at first blush like a post-La­bor Day start won’t take a closer look. I sus­pect that I will be in for some at­tacks from them or their sur­ro­gates for writ­ing this.

But Mary­lan­ders, all Mary­lan­ders, even those who strongly sup­port start­ing school af­ter La­bor Day, should be con­cerned about this type of be­hav­ior. They should ques­tion whether they want po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who are more in­ter­ested in be­ing pop­u­lar or do­ing the right thing. This isn’t “Danc­ing with the Stars,” it’s the state of Mary­land. We have se­ri­ous prob­lems that re­quire se­ri­ous lead­ers who are will­ing to an­swer tough ques­tions and deal with com­pli­cated is­sues.

We aren’t see­ing that from ei­ther Gover­nor Ho­gan or Comptroller Fran­chot. If some­one wrote a book about them, it wouldn’t be called “Pro­files in Courage.” It would be called “Pro­files in Pan­der­ing.”

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