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Next week, well under the radar of most political observers, a huge fight in the battle over "education reform" will be waged in a fairly nondescript, heavily Democratic state assembly district in the San Fernando Valley, just northwest of downtown Los Angeles. It pits teachers unions against the darling of corporate "reform," Michelle Rhee, in a fight that could spill over into November and eventually cost both sides hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

The battle is for the vacant 46th Assembly District, which stretches from the southern rim of the Valley (including much of the Hollywood Hills) northwest towards the community of Granada Hills.

It pits a total of five Democrats and one Republican (Jay Stern, who stands little chance of getting elected in a district that was 73 percent Obama in 2008).

The two Democrats getting the most attention are former charter schools official Brian Johnson and university professor Andrew Lachman.

Johnson is the darling of the "education reform" movement, and an alumnus of the "reform"-tinged Teach for America program. He has been the recipient of a tremendous amount of largesse from corporations and individuals who are major players in the "reform" movement. Most notably, Michelle Rhee's efforts to buy seats in the California State Legislature (a $2 million effort) have led to $400,000 being spent on Johnson's campaign.

Johnson, for his part, appears pretty sensitive about being perceived as the pawn of the "education reform" community, despite their heavy investment in his candidacy. In an "open letter" posted to Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association (in the name of full disclosure, I am a CTA member), Johnson wrote the following:

Even though your mail pieces and calls imply my views are otherwise, I am completely against vouchers, turning all public schools into charters, or any privatization of public schools.   As I have said many times before to you, we actually agree on 90% of the issues.
Johnson's problem, of course, is that when you stand that close to Michelle Rhee, the darling of right-wing governors everywhere, claiming to be pro-teacher (or even a Democrat in good standing) becomes an awfully tough needle to thread.

Lachman, meanwhile, has become the favored candidate of state and local teachers organizations, with the support not only of the CTA but also the endorsement of UTLA, the union representing teachers within the Los Angeles Unified School District (the entirety of the 46th district, as configured, rests within the boundaries of the massive LAUSD). Lachman has been the beneficiary of their financial support, as well, though they have not matched the corporate-backed "reform" regime dollar-for-dollar (they have contributed less than half of what Rhee's organization has done on their own).

In a clear nod to what has become the dominant campaign topic in his district, his "issues" section on his website focuses on K-12 education, and he makes multiple references to being the son of a teacher.

Worth noting: This is likely a fight that will not end next Tuesday. Because of the overwhelmingly Democratic tilt of the 46th AD, and the newly enacted "top two" primary system in effect in California, the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) face off in November. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this race could carry on to November, which would mean that the half-million-plus dollars that have been expended in this proxy fight over the issue of education will be increased exponentially between now and Election Day.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue May 29, 2012 at 12:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

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