Question for those following the ongoing saga of Milwaukee's pro-voucher Advocates for Student Achievement:
What does Redonna Rodgers, candidate for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, representing District 6, have in common with the following list of distinguished lawmakers, political leaders, and the Republican National Committee:
--Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
--Republican Sen. Norm Coleman (Minnesota)
--Republican Sen. John McCain (Arizona)
--Republican Sen. Gordon Smith (Oregon)
--Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (Arizona)
--Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin)
--Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani (New York)
--Republican President George W. Bush
Last Tuesday, I posted highlights from the public Yahoo group used by the right-wing, pro-voucher Advocates for Student Achievement in Milwaukee, ones that illustrated the sharp contrast between ASA's carefully-staged public profile and its real activities and intentions. For example, it purported to be, in its own words, a "good government group" organized to encourage more people to run for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board. But their internal communications showed that ASA was, in fact, a machine to recruit, train and manage pro-voucher candidates for that board, and to discourage others from running. In public, ASA said its only intent was to identify and inform good candidates; in private, ASA engaged in everything from fundraising to message-management for its stable of three: Redonna Rodgers, Annie Woodward and David Voeltner. And while in public, ASA's representatives said they had no agenda except to focus attention on improving Milwaukee's public schools, their internal conversations reveal a very different goal: to remove MPS Board President Peter Blewett from office.
NEWS FLASH: The secret-but-public Yahoo group that I described yesterday here has now been closed! Apparently too many Kossacks were checking the link, recognizing the evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing by Advocates for Student Achievement of Milwaukee, and sharing it with their friends and neighbors, the media and Wisconsin law enforcement agencies. I hope that everyone was able to copy the data found there before it was closed this morning. I did!
Now, on to today's update:
Kossacks, I've been thinking this morning about the reasons why the daily newspaper in Milwaukee might choose not to follow up on the investigative reporting (consisting of a couple of Google searches) I did on Monday and reported yesterday here and here.
Let's go back to 2004 for a second. What if it was two weeks before Election Day and YOU, doing a simple Google search, found Karl Rove's internal email traffic with Rummy, Condi, Ashcroft, Miers, Gonzales and the rest of Dubya's cabal. What if, in the strangest of twists, they were using a plain old Yahoo group to communicate with each other, and didn't take the time to make it closed to the public? What if YOU could read for yourself all the wrinkled, ugly truth between the shiny plastic lies that these people were telling in public?
Would you run to publish what you found there?
Would you share it with as many of your friends as fast as you could?
Would you summarize as much of it as possible and post it online, even post it at Kos?
Last week, a good-government group in Wisconsin called Citizen Action filed a complaint against Advocates for Student Achievement, one of those right-wing, pro-voucher outfits that adopted Bush-era doublespeak for a name. I've already done the math and concluded to my own satisfaction that they're pro-voucher, despite their protestations, and that they've engaged in candidate recruitment and training, though they say otherwise, and that they've run their own fundraising operation on behalf of their recommended candidates, though they say they haven't.
I read the Citizen Action complaint, and I understand the point that Citizen Action is making. Wisconsin law says that if you create a political action committee, and it functions as a political action committee, then the PAC has to register itself and make regular campaign finance reports to the appropriate state agency. And Advocates for Student Achievement hasn't done that; it's been busy targeting Milwaukee Public Schools Board President Peter Blewett for defeat, training and raising money for its own candidates -- Redonna Rodgers, Annie Woodward and David Voeltner -- and not taking any calls from the mean old media.
How could I have forgotten to mention in my note last night that someone has already admitted they're behind the second poll targeting Milwaukee Public Schools Board President Peter Blewett, and the trail leads right back to Advocates for Student Achievement, the pro-voucher group that commissioned the first anti-Blewett poll. And once again, the scoop didn't come from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel -- where exactly does the MJS spend its reporting budget? -- but from the steadfast Shepherd Express, and from Lisa Kaiser, the one-woman investigative team covering the MPS Board race.
It makes you wonder if the Journal-Sentinel and the Shepherd Express cover education issues in the same city.
Oh, and I remembered the one big thing that had slipped my mind last night. It seems that when Advocates for Student Achievement behaves like a political action committee -- you know, raising money for candidates, giving money to candidates, recommending candidates, organizing support for candidates -- but doesn't file PAC financial disclosure statements, it may be breaking Wisconsin state law.
It's been an interesting ten days in Milwaukee since I finished adding up all the strange details about Advocates for Student Achievement and concluded that they were, in fact, a pro-voucher front group for unnamed, unknown folks who may or may not live in Milwaukee, or even in Wisconsin. You know what they say: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. Well, according to my math, a whole bunch of ducks got together, appointed themselves in charge, recruited a bunch of candidates to run for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, then ran a big flag up the pole over the duck clubhouse that read, "We're not ducks, we're not pro-voucher, and vote against that anti-voucher MPS President Peter Blewett." Doesn't take a lot of calculating to figure out they were ducks.
And that their agenda is school vouchers.
And that their primary target is MPS President Peter Blewett.
I've been curious about how Advocates for Student Achievement, the group pulled together in Milwaukee in 2007, views the job of serving on the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, since their stated Public Agenda was to recruit challengers to run for the MPS Board. After all, the MPS Board oversees $1.2 billion in public funds. It faces great public scrutiny. There's no limit to the diversity of strong opinions aired against the board after most of its major decisions. Board members likely have to grow thick-skinned to withstand it. To get people to volunteer for that sort of abuse -- after first running a full-scale campaign in a city like Milwaukee -- ASA probably had to put on a full-court press, really dig deep and apply pressure.
Turns out, I was completely wrong about serving on the MPS Board. As the Advocates for Student Achievement explained on their website, it's just "a part-time job."
So, as we've already established, Advocates for Student Achievement in Milwaukee commissioned a poll. ASA is a group pulled together in 2007. The real Ideological Agenda at play here isn't likely very popular, so ASA's stated mission, and the stated mission of its political action committee, is to find, train and run challengers for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, because "vigorously contested elections are needed to preserve faith in a democratically elected" yadda yadda yadda.
You don't find and run "challengers" for open seats -- you run "candidates" for open seats. Fact is, MPS Board Chairman Peter Blewett is the only incumbent running for re-election this year. I know you're asking, What's ASA's beef with Blewett? Didn't graduation rates jump while he's been on the board and board chairman? And hasn't he fought for more and better of this, and that, the languages, the arts, the music, the technical education? Yes, that's fine, but it's not that simple.
If I were an Ideologue -- in fact, if I were a whole group of unnamed, unidentified Ideologues -- and I wanted to bend the Milwaukee Public Schools Board to my own will, to serve my Agenda, what would I do? I have three strikes against me: The MPS Board doesn't agree with my Agenda, the public probably doesn't agree with my Agenda, and objective data don't support my Agenda, so it's a hard sell. The only elements in my favor are that some MPS Board members are up for election this year, Milwaukee has a lot of competing challenges to distract the public, and I have some money to spend.
Actually, I have two more elements in my favor: One of the MPS Board members up for re-election in 2009 is its chairman, Peter Blewett, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a long history of running against Peter Blewett.
So, what if a group of wealthy people -- some who live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and some who live elsewhere -- wanted to enact their own political agenda in that city? What if, to enact their agenda, they needed the local school board -- which we'll call the Milwaukee Public Schools Board -- to take certain actions, but the MPS Board doesn't agree with these "Ideologues" and their "Agenda"?
Let's say that, sometime in 2007, these Ideologues looked at the calendar and saw that some of the MPS Board members were up for re-election in 2009. They saw an opportunity to replace incumbents who disagree with the Agenda with new board members who would help them enact the Agenda. All the Ideologues would have to do is to put up candidates who agree with the Agenda, and then get those candidates elected.
Let's say a group of wealthy people -- some who live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and some who live elsewhere -- want to enact their own political agenda in that city. Milwaukee's ripe for the picking, with its abundant challenges and imperfect leaders. Let's call the members of this group the Ideologues, and let's call their goals the Agenda.
To enact the Agenda, the Ideologues need the local school board -- which we'll call the Milwaukee Public Schools Board -- to take certain actions. But the MPS Board doesn't agree with the Ideologues and their Agenda.
So let's say...