Last week Governor Bullock’s dream of pre-kindergarten education became somewhat of a nightmare when it was tabled in committee. All part of the legislative process, right? Sure, bills pass out of committees and bills get tabled in committees, but rarely do bills get killed anymore. So the average person would take tabling as part of the game and move along. Clearly Bullock is not the average person. Above or below average becomes the question if you read his press release in which he lashed out at his long time partners, unions and education coalitions, as being petty and out of touch. Never mind that one of those petty special interest groups had a lot to do with the fact that he got to push this bill along in the first place. In this case you can take ‘a lot’ to mean well over five million dollars in direct and indirect campaign contributions to support his multiple elections.
And really folks, the position of the Montana Federation of Public Employees and the Montana AFL-CIO shouldn’t come as any surprise. If you wander back in time to when Ronald Regan made public sector union busting sexy, you’ll understand why public sector unions have opposed privatization on all fronts. And since those public sector unions now control the density of union members across the country, opposition also comes from state federations like the AFL-CIO. ‘Opposing’ isn’t just opposing some or a little here and there, it’s as simple as that; privatization is bad, bad, bad. But hey, it’s the Governor’s bill and he did a little union lawyering back in the day so surely this zebra can change it’s stripes just this once?
So much hay has already been made here, why more? One week later, and of no surprise to anyone, the solid word going around the Capitol today is that the Governor has found his end around and will jam his HB 755 into another bill that won’t require a hearing, let alone any of that silly public comment. If he gets his way he’ll have added a new cabinet position through the creation of a Pre-K Czar to be appointed by each sitting Governor. Couple that up with the opening of the floodgates for publicly funded private schools that can just as easily look like Greg Gianforte’s Petra Academy where only the beautiful and the bright are allowed entrance.
Maybe we shouldn’t go so hard on the Governor, after all it’s not like he’s out there on his own in this venture. Take House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner who’s got a little personal skin in this game should some of this money dry up at the end of the session. Or it could also be that the Great Falls representative has an eye on the fancy Czar job given his ramblings about running for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Imagine if the Democratic Party hadn’t failed the tier B races, maybe Bullock wouldn’t need a Czar and could offer up an olive branch by housing at least the oversight of his privatization project just down the street at OPI. No such luck as long as Elsie holds that office.
And then there’s the rest of the minority party in the Capitol who have sidled up to Bullock on this idea except for a courageous few. Could be they should take note that two key legislative objectives for public employee unions have been achieved already and they were not the ones who pulled it off. Republicans snatched the negotiated state employee pay plan and the school funding bill from the historical grip of Democrats and passed both bills unscathed for the first time in a decade. While some may have seen this as an effort to move organized labor off of the playing field, it could also be that unions have a new best friend. Of course the People’s Party likes that influx of international union cash to keep the election fires burning in even years. Nothing like biting the hand that feeds you. And now a Governor who has a track record of privatization and continues down that path. Let’s not forget about his handing over of the Montana Developmental Center to the for profit and private AWAR INC in 2015.
It’s the Governor’s next move. Success here makes him the Iowa primary candidate of early childhood education and could make him some friends for having beat up on the unions that brought him to the dance, as his former budget director used to say. While unions may have gotten fat and lazy in the past, they’ve hopefully learned that the only friend they have now is the dues paying member. Vigilance is the name of the game if they want to continue on with their important work. As for the lame duck Governor, vengeance will likely be the name of his game. Fortunately, that game ends in January of 2021.
‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’