Tag Archives: Mike Pence

Indiana’s School Voucher Program–The Back Story

Toward the end of yesterday’s post about high-stakes testing, I noted that its largest-in-the-nation voucher program illustrated Indiana’s penchant for simple answers to complicated questions.

I have friends who sincerely believe that “school choice” will help poor children escape failing public schools, and none of the careful academic research that documents voucher schools’ generally poor academic results convinces them otherwise. “Private” is a word like “shazam!”– magically opening imaginary doors.

Critics of Indiana’s voucher program tend to place the most blame on Mike Pence, but a recent series of articles identifies Mitch Daniels as the political brains behind Indiana’s program. Pence certainly expanded it–and engineered amendments to ensure that religious schools, rather than other private institutions, would be the major beneficiaries. (In Indiana, some 92% of vouchers are used to attend religious schools, virtually all Christian and a sizable number fundamentalist.)

No one who knows Mike Pence, however, would describe him as the brains of any operation. That accolade belongs to Mitch Daniels.

After noting that five years after the program was established, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients had never attended Indiana public schools–failing or not–and that Hoosier taxpayers are now covering private and religious school tuition for children whose parents had previously footed that bill, the author proceeded to describe the voucher program as an outgrowth of a conversation at a dinner party hosted by Steve Hilbert, at which Daniels is quoted as saying “There is no reason even debating the abysmal, atrocious failure of the public school monopoly anymore.”

In the years that followed, three of those dinner guests — Daniels, Pence and Klipsch — would be major players in the quest to privatize traditional public education in Indiana.

Klipsch would start and run a political action committee, Hoosiers for Economic Growth (a.k.a. Hoosiers for Quality Education), that would play a major role in creating a Republican majority in the Indiana House to redistrict the state to assure future Republican control.

In 1996, however, there were no charter schools in Indiana, nor were there virtual schools or vouchers. Neighborhood public schools served communities in a state that had always taken a “liberal and leading role” in providing public education for its children.

Twenty-one years later, Hoosier public schools were showing the effects of 15 years of what the article characterizes as “relentless attack.”

Entire public school systems in Indiana cities, such as Muncie and Gary, had been decimated by funding losses, even as a hodgepodge of ineffective charter and voucher schools sprang up to replace them. Charter school closings and scandals were commonplace, with failing charters sometimes flipped into failing voucher schools. Many of the great public high schools of Indianapolis were closed from a constant churn of reform directed by a “mindtrust” infatuated with portfolio management of school systems.

The author traced the decline to Daniels.

After his election, Daniels quickly laid the groundwork for creating a system based on the belief that the market principle of competition would improve education outcomes and drive down costs. Under the guise of property tax reform, Daniels seized control of school funding by legislating that the state would pay the largest share of district costs known as the general fund, while giving localities the responsibility for paying for debt service, capital projects, transportation and bus replacement. Daniels and the legislature also made sure that districts would be hamstrung in raising their local share by capping property taxes so that they could not exceed 1 percent of a home’s assessed value. The poorer the town, the less money the district could raise.

The remainder of the lengthy article traces the changes to Indiana education made by Daniels and Tony Bennett, his chosen Superintendent of Public Instruction–changes funded by Betsy DeVos’s foundation. I encourage you to click through and read the article in its entirety. And weep.

My only quibble is with the author’s obvious belief that Daniels’ assault on public education was motivated by a malevolent intent to privatize the state’s schools. Unlike Pence, Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)

So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.

Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.

That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.


Kleptocrat Or Theocrat?

Frank Bruni had a recent column headlined “Mike Pence: Holy Terror,” with a subhead asking “Do you really want to get rid of Donald Trump?”

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

I would add one more comparison to Trump: Pence is equally incompetent. Former students of mine who worked in the Pence administration when he was governor have reported on his utter lack of interest in–or competence for–actual governing.

Bruni’s column was prompted by a forthcoming book about Indiana’s contribution to American decline, titled  “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.”  The book will be published on Aug. 28, and Bruni says it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date. (I probably would amend the title to read “The Shallow President,” but then, I’ve known Mike a long time.)

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

The book documents Pence’s disregard for science (remember when he insisted that smoking doesn’t cause cancer?) and his willingness to peddle conspiracy theories, like the belief that efforts to address climate change are “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose.”

The book also reports on what the authors call his “callousness” toward African-Americans.

As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis— similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

There are discussions of Pence’s stunt flying to Indianapolis for a Colt’s game (so that he could ostentatiously leave when players took a knee), his long association with Betsy DeVos (and their efforts to divert public school children to religious schools via vouchers), his anti-woman, anti-abortion stances (on the House floor, he called for abortion to be a capital offense), the RFRA debacle, and his embrace of despicable Joe Arpaio.

This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

The column didn’t say whether the book addressed the recently publicized consequences of his family gas station business’ bankruptcy, which left Hoosier taxpayers on the hook for millions in environmental cleanup costs. But Bruni does recount two illuminating episodes from Pence’s college days that evidently emerged after the book went to press:

One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

What sort of person tells a friend who is experiencing a crisis “You’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore”?

There’s an easy answer to that question–a thoroughly despicable one.


Pence: The Definitive Portrait

Let me begin by saying that I am not a particular fan of George Will. I find him patronizing, occasionally dishonest, frequently petty, and given to a prose style evidently intended to remind us lesser beings that he once swallowed a thesaurus.

But I really, really loved his recent screed about Mike Pence, which he titled “Trump is no longer the worst person in government.”

Most readers of this blog have probably seen it by now–for a couple of days, it was the most widely shared column on my Facebook feed, and probably many others. (As one of my friends noted, we in Indiana have had this impression of our former governor for years; it’s nice that non-Hoosiers can share it.)

Will doesn’t waste time getting to his thesis. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.

Oleaginous. Toadyism. Obsequiousness. Lickspittle. Ordinarily, I would be annoyed by the pretentiousness of the language, but I am compelled to admire how perfectly it fits. I do hope Mike Pence has a dictionary…

The entire column is a devastating–and accurate–takedown of Mr. Piety, and if you have somehow missed it, I encourage you to click through. What evidently set Will off was Pence’s praise of Joe Arpaio, the despicable sheriff who spent years violating the constitutional rights of people in Arizona, during a speech in Tempe.

Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio “another favorite,” professed himself “honored” by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as “a tireless champion of . . . the rule of law.” Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.

As those of us who have known him for years can attest, this performance was classic Pence. His “service” as governor was marked both by his constant parading of his Christian bona fides and his equally constant willingness to act in what most people would consider very unChristian ways: trying to block desperate Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana, opposing basic civil rights for LGBTQ Hoosiers, endorsing punitive anti-choice, anti-woman legislation… all while neglecting the pesky, day-to-day details of actually governing the state.

It’s hard to disagree with Will’s brutal last paragraph.

There will be negligible legislating by the next Congress, so ballots cast this November will be most important as validations or repudiations of the harmonizing voices of Trump, Pence, Arpaio and the like. Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

Florid prose or no–when the man is right, he’s right.

Bought And Paid For….

As I have previously noted, I am a capitalist, an advocate of market economics.

Most members of today’s GOP are not.

In order to work properly, genuine capitalism requires regulation. Much as I hate sports analogies, this one fits: just as you cannot have a fair sporting contest without referees/umpires, you cannot have a working market economy without rules that ensure a level playing field. (You also have to distinguish between areas of the economy in which markets work and areas–like healthcare– where they don’t, but that is a subject for a different post.)

When people with little or no bargaining power have little or no choice but to do business with large, powerful institutions, government has an obligation to insure that the powerful are not taking advantage of the powerless. And that brings me to yesterday’s Senate vote to protect Wall Street from those annoying people from whom they profit .You will not be shocked to find that Mike Pence (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers) cast the deciding vote.

Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote late Tuesday to block new regulations allowing U.S. consumers to sue their banks, handing Wall Street and other big financial institutions their biggest victory since President Trump’s election.

The rules would have cost the industry billions of dollars, according to some estimates. With the Senate’s vote, Wall Street is beginning to reap the benefits of the Trump administration focus on rolling back regulations it says are strangling the economy. The vote is also a major rebuke of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which wrote the rules, and has often found itself at odds of Republicans in Congress and the business community.

The issue is that fine print in the agreements that we consumers have to sign when we apply for credit cards or bank accounts– fine print that requires us to settle any disputes that may subsequently arise through arbitration, in which a third party generally favorable to the Big Guys rules on the matter, rather than going to court or joining a class-action lawsuit.

The CFPB rule would block mandatory arbitration clauses in some cases, potentially allowing millions of Americans to file or join a lawsuit to press their complaints.

After more than four hours of debate, the Senate voted 51 to 50 to block its implementation. Pence was forced to cast the deciding vote shortly after 10 p.m. when two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, opposed the resolution. House Republicans already passed legislation to block the rule, which now needs the approval of President Trump.

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country. Wall Street won and ordinary people lost,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement minutes after the vote. The legislation “preserves a two-tiered justice system where banks can have their day in court but deny their customers the same right.”

Proponents of the roll-back trotted out the “usual suspects”–those slimy lawyers and their class-action lawsuits–and pretended that the rule wouldn’t really protect consumers and that it would infringe on our freedom to contract. (Because you can always negotiate your credit card terms with MasterCard…) There may be some lawyers who abuse the system (although courts have ways of punishing such abuses), but class action lawsuits are a very important tool for justice. They’re one of the very few ways consumers can force changes to unethical and predatory business practices.

Class action lawsuits allow large groups of people to seek small amounts they individually wouldn’t have time or money to pursue. Large companies employing legally questionable practices rely on the ability to make a lot of money by cheating individual consumers just a little, not enough to justify hiring a lawyer and bringing an individual suit.

Reading about the Senate vote, my husband asked me why any Senator would vote to roll back the rule. I suggested he look at where those Senators’ campaign contributions came from.

If markets are for buying and selling, the Senate is evidently a thriving marketplace.

Down Memory Lane With Mike And Roy

Roy Moore’s victory yesterday in Alabama’s GOP primary occasioned a walk down memory lane by NY Magazine.

As the magazine’s article reminded us, Moore–crazy as he is–isn’t the only radical conservative peddling a noxious stew of theocracy, white nationalism and assorted bigotries: others identified included Stephen Bannon, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Sebastian Gorka, Sarah Palin, Steve King, Mark Meadows, and Jim DeMint.

And, of course, Mike Pence. Which will surprise exactly no one who lives in Indiana.

As the article notes, “Pence has spent most of his political career aligned with Roy Moore as a stalwart of the Christian right.” He only looks safe and/or sane when he’s standing next to our unhinged President.

Pence nearly wrecked his gubernatorial tenure in Indiana in 2015 by pushing through a “religious liberty” bill that made his state a national pariah and the subject of major business boycotts before he agreed to modify it. But long before then, as a leader of hard-core conservatives in the U.S. House, Pence was notable in the extremism of his commitment to conservative religious ideology. For one thing, he co-sponsored “personhood” legislation designed to make fertilized ova citizens for purposes of constitutional protection. For another, he was closely associated with the shadowy conservative Christian power-elite group “The Family” (a.k.a. “The Fellowship”) along with Jim DeMint, Sam Brownback, Mark Sanford, and other fire-breathing members of the cultural right.

Political opponents like to point out that Pence failed to pass any legislation during his 11+ years in Congress, as though that is a telling criticism.  In my opinion, we should be profoundly grateful for that failure, given the sorts of legislation he sponsored. For example, Pence was one of the original co-sponsors of what was called at the time the “single most outrageous bit of right-wing legislation introduced in Congress since the days of segregation”: the Constitutional Restoration Act of 2005.

[S]ome of the wingnuttiest members of the Senate have decided to attempt to turn us into a Christian Reconstructionist theocracy once and for all and have introduced the Constitutional Restoration Act.

Though it is described as a “bill to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism,” reading its actual summary proves enlightening as to its true intent: This legislation seeks to make it possible for Congress to remove any judge who refuses to acknowledge that the basis for all law, liberty, and government is God.

We can all guess whose version of God is the “author” (according to Mike and Roy)–or perhaps only the “inspiration for”– the U.S. Constitution.

Not so incidentally, the measure would have eviscerated the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, and made state court decisions–not decisions issued by that pesky Supreme Court– the final word on “God’s” law.

The co-authors of this modest proposal? They were none other than Roy Moore, along with his longtime sidekick Herb Titus, who was once the vice-presidential nominee of the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party.

Pence’s areas of agreement with Moore are extensive: both would strip LGBTQ citizens of any and all legal rights (Moore has advocated recriminalizing same-sex relations); both supported the above-referenced “Personhood Amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw all abortions by making a fertilized egg the legal equal of a fully-grown human; both believe that Muslims are dangerous terrorists, and that American Muslims are intent upon imposing “sharia law” on Americans; both would defund Planned Parenthood…the list goes on.

The fact that Mike Pence is widely seen as an improvement over the current President–and viewed as a “mainstream” Republican–tells us all we need to know about this President and the current iteration of the Republican Party.