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Why can’t California lawmakers stop sexual harassment in the capitol?

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, sits at the Capitol. For four years, Melendez has authored a bill to enshrine whistleblower protections into law for those legislative staff members who come forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, only to have the bills killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

You know who doesn’t look so weird anymore? Vice President Mike Pence. When Pence told the Washington Post that he doesn’t dine alone with women, and never, ever attends an event solo if alcohol will be served, many gasped. He seemed like a too-tightly wrapped antihero from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

But that was in ancient America, in March of 2017. Today, in the age of what a Reason magazine reporter calls “Weinsteining,” we know more.

We have pretty good reason to believe that film producer Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator – a kind of horny zombie in a bathrobe, a powerful creature that eats not your brain but maybe your soul. But now, writes Cathy Young, we’re obliterating distinctions, in a #MeToo movement that “tends to lump together a wide range of male wrongdoing from rape to ‘creepy’ or boorish behavior.” That broad brush “raises a basic question about human relations in the working world,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week: “Can work and sexuality or romance ever mix? For many supporters of this campaign, the answer seems to be no.”

Among those who said no before it became hip was Mike Pence. But when his perspective was published in the Post, he was ridiculed as a Victorian or worse. For her part, Young concludes “sexual interaction will happen unless the workplace is regulated to a dehumanizing degree and realistically, some unwanted sexual attention will happen as well. As we grapple with these issues, we desperately need nuance.”

Remember nuance? You’ll need some right now – as you read this – to understand why our state lawmakers can’t pass a bill to protect their staff members from sexual harassment of any kind.

Since last month, more than 300 women who have worked in the state capitol have said they too were victims of some sort of sexual harassment. You’d think our state legislature – dominated as it is by a liberal super-majority – would be eager to address the epidemic.

You’d be wrong.

“For four years, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore has introduced a bill to extend whistleblower protection to legislative employees. And for four years, the bill has been buried by the Senate appropriations committee,” CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenthal wrote in September.

“It’s ironic to me that the Legislature passes laws that are very specific to what employers can and can’t do, but doesn’t want to impose the same rules on itself,” Melendez told Rosenthal in a separate story. “What is that?”

What is that, indeed? Why would a Democratic super-majority annually kill a bill to protect victims of sexual harassment? One explanation might be Reason writer Cathy Young’s – that Democrats in the appropriations subcommittee recognize that government over-regulation of the workplace is its own kind of harassment.

But that’s not how our Democratic majority ultimately explained it. Imagine a world in which Democrats demanded less regulation. Delightful.

Another obvious explanation for the failure to pass Melendez’s measure is that government officials delight in regulating others but generally see themselves as above the law. That’s a nonpartisan, human impulse. Understanding that impulse is behind the genius of democracy – and Lord Acton’s adage that power corrupts.

But acknowledging their own corruption on this issue would be impossible for the state legislature’s super-majority. So instead they have argued – in a state Senate subcommittee – that they cannot extend whistleblower protections to their staff because their staff members are not unionized. Their staff members are hired at will, the state Senate subcommittee said. And where employees are hired at will, they may be fired at will – they cannot be protected. Democratic translation: Where there are no unions, there can be no justice.

It’s an evil response, but (admit it!) somewhat clever for people who owe their political careers to the powerful government unions that keep California corrupt – and broke. Until their staff become union members, the Democrats will offer no protection.

You and I can call that what it is: the government unions’ war on women.

Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center.

ALEC, ISTA and Indiana

The teachers unions continue to pound the anti-ALEC drum, this year in the Hoosier State.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization of state legislators, business leaders and other concerned Americans dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. In the education sphere, ALEC holds that parents should be in charge of their children’s education by allowing them to have choices – charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, etc. – that would “allow each child the opportunity to reach his or her potential.” Furthermore, ALEC believes that workers should not be subjected to forced unionism.

Of course the nation’s teachers unions paint ALEC as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad organization. In the National Education Association’s pantheon-of-evil, ALEC dwells alongside its most loathed: Rebecca Friedrichs, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers. In a barrage of anti-ALEC webpages from NEA, we learn, among many other things, that the group favors education privatization so that greedy corporate types can make bundles from little Johnny and Janie, while learning their ABCs. (Just how the schools are somehow supposed to turn into corporate cash cows is not addressed.)

Teacher union activists have come to picket ALEC’s yearly meetings with a self-righteous fervor that makes the true believers glow with pride. Last July in San Diego, Barbara Dawson, a middle school history and English teacher, proudly proclaimed, “They (those attending the ALEC conference) couldn’t have missed it. We were beating drums, yelling and chanting in front of the hotel.”

Yeah, nothing like beating drums and yelling to advance your cause. That’ll learn the capitalist bastards! In a more sober moment, Helen Farias, a local union leader from the Sweetwater Education Association intoned, “The types of legislation ALEC promotes will create a two-tiered educational system, one for the privileged and one for the rest of us.”

Of course, Ms. Farias has it exactly backwards. We already have a two-tiered system, whereby rich people can afford to send their kids to private schools, but due to the Big Government-Big Union duopoly, not-so-rich folks don’t have that option in most places.

Last week, the yearly ALEC meeting was held in Indianapolis, and the unions got a “four-fer.” Not only did the faithful get a chance to express their displeasure with ALEC, they got to do it in a state that has an extensive voucher program as well as tax-credit scholarships. Additionally, Indiana houses EdChoice (formerly known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), the preeminent school choice outfit in the country. But wait, there’s more! The Hoosier State is also home to Republican Party vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who is an ardent school choicer.

This year’s union festivities included a twitter storm and a march (braving the heat!) by Indiana State Teachers Association members and sympathizers to the Marriott where the ALEC meeting was being held. The union also issued a special invitation. “While supplies last, we will give two free game tickets (to a minor league baseball game), food vouchers and t-shirts to ISTA members who register early.” The event, held on “Public Education Night” was a tepid affair where partying seemed to be the highest priority. Best of all, Indianans were spared the drum circle at all the protests.

But on a serious note, please keep in mind that while it was the ISTA bosses who bribed their members to come out and protest, the goodies were paid for by union members themselves. Worse, according to David Wolkins, an Indiana legislator, former teacher and public sector co-chair for ALEC, in addition to the swag, ISTA used Craigslist to hire civilians to show up and protest ALEC, paying them $30 a day.

Then there was an opinion piece in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette last week in which Wolkins reminded us of the hideous and criminal mismanagement by ISTA of its members’ insurance fund. As Mike Antonucci reported in December 2013, “The state of Indiana finalized a settlement with the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) in which the union will pay $14 million to 27 school districts. The settlement arose from an estimated $23 million the ISTA insurance trust owed those districts for misuse of their premiums.”

Also, ISTA has been busy in the Indiana State House this year, where it successfully managed to kill House Bill 1004 which among other things, which would have allowed school districts to pay teachers more money in shortage areas without having to consult the local teachers union.

So as ALEC continues to fight for taxpayers, parents and kids, ISTA – as all teachers unions do – looks to preserve its power and influence…at the expense of taxpayers, parents and kids.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Empire Statement

Andrew Cuomo becomes the latest governor to take on the teachers unions.

Expanding vouchers to unaccountable private schools. Stripping teachers of their right to due process. Converting neighborhood public schools into privately run charter schools unanswerable to local school boards and taxpayers. Proceeding with tax cuts for the wealthy while starving public schools.

Holy horrors! The above, from the National Education Association EdVotes page, would lead us to believe that a healthy dose of school choice would destroy our less than wildly successful education system. The same page specifically nails several governors for having the audacity to promote school choice and other child-friendly reforms. Making the NEA Hall of Shame are Sam Brownback (KS), Rick Snyder (MI), Rick Scott (FL), Mike Pence (IN) and of course public (employee union) enemy #1 – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

All Republicans.

But just recently a high-profile Democrat joined this exclusive club. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the teachers unions with a venom that probably made Chris Christie proud.

Cuomo told the New York Daily News that the teachers unions represent themselves, not the students. He referred to them, along with the entrenched education establishment, as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it purports to serve.

If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city. I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this. This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.

He went on to decry the fact that 250,000 kids over the past decade were trapped in failing schools.

Where was the outrage? You want to talk to me about teachers’ rights? Why isn’t the question: ‘How did we let that happen to 250,000 kids — black and brown kids, by the way.’

At Cuomo’s State of the State speech, given a day before he talked to the Daily News, he spoke about matters that send teacher union leaders into an apoplectic state: more charter schools, stricter teacher evaluations, an end to teacher tenure in its current form and tax credits for donors who want to help students attend private schools.

Needless to say, teacher union leaders and their camp followers are now at war with Cuomo. The union bosses’ counter-offensive would normally involve Sheldon Silver – their bought-and-paid for speaker of the New York State Assembly and perhaps the most powerful legislator in Albany – to eviscerate any reforms being pushed by the governor. But in what could be viewed as providential, Silver was charged – the day after Cuomo’s fiery talk – with lining his pockets with nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in a massive abuse of power dating back at least 15 years. He was accused of committing five felonies, including fraud, extortion and conspiracy. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison.

Not waiting for a trial, Silver quickly resigned his position, leaving the New York State United Teachers without its powerful lawmaker to do its bidding. But NYSUT ain’t gonna be cowed by no governor – even if their goombah in Albany now has a new office in Sing Sing.

In an attempt to fire up his troops, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of teachers – NYSUT’s Big Apple affiliate – reached deep into the Teacher Union Guidebook of Clichéd and Ridiculous Responses to Education Reformers and accused Cuomo of being afraid of “the hedge-fund managers and corporate interests whose donations fill your campaign coffers.” Mulgrew also blasted the governor for being behind “corporate bonus-style merit pay,” claimed that his “education agenda isn’t about education at all – it is political payback” (because the unions did not support his reelection bid) and that “it is poverty and inequality and lack of funding, not ‘failing schools’ or ‘bad teachers,’ that are at the root of our education system’s struggles.” (I can hear Harlem Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz howling over the last one.)

One not impressed in the least by Mulgrew’s claptrap is New York City Parents Union leader Mona Davids (H/T RiShawn Biddle) who fired back,

Funny thing is: 

1.  When Mulgrew eliminated extended day last year, he didn’t consult parents!  

2.  When Mulgrew sabotaged the teacher evaluations in 2013, he didn’t consult parents and didn’t give a hoot about our schools losing $290 million.  We had to sue to keep the $290 million!

3.  They accuse and are crying foul of the “reformers” political contributions–but, they’ve been giving pols money to get what they want all this time.  Now, they have competition.

UFT/NYSUT absolutely refuses to even admit maybe 1% — just 1%, of teachers are ineffective or make any changes to dismissal procedures.

But of course to union leaders, parents are nuisances who must be dealt with – “handled” – but should not be included in any important way that affects their children’s education.

Last Thursday, the union started to hold “emergency meetings” with teachers, parents and clergy. Why do I get the idea that Ms. Davids and other activist, reform-minded parents are not on the short list? And clergy…? Maybe the unions, in their desperate quest to leave no stone unturned, are looking for divine intervention.

At the meetings, I’m sure the union bosses will be wearing their Sunday best, spinning the data as only they can, pushing to spend more on education, while professing their purest, most heartfelt concern for “the children.” But the fact remains that in New York State just 40 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math and 37 percent in reading. Yet, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “New York spends more per pupil ($19,552 in 2012) than any other state and nearly twice the national average. Incredibly, the Empire State spends more on a per pupil basis on employee benefits than reform leaders Tennessee and Florida spend on teacher salaries.”

While not every problem in education is union-caused, many are. And until the unions fess up and make amends (don’t hold your breath), more and more elected officials – from both sides of the aisle – will be pushing back. It’s about time.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.