The people should not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor for applying to the Legislature by petitions or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances.
Amendments Offered in Congress by James Madison, June 8, 1789.
The Albany legislative session traditionally begins with the Governor’s State of the State speech. It is the busiest day of the year, the electeds, state and local officials and hordes of lobbyists descend to listen to the words of wisdom in the wonderfully ornate Assembly chamber and hob-nob at the receptions.
At the Speaker’s reception hundreds squeeze into a meeting space, Joel and Meryl glad hand, do obeisance to the makers of the laws, and nibble lox and bagels, combining the trappings of 19th century formalism and a modern day bar mitzvah.
Anticipation was in the air: what would the Governor say about charter schools, raising the cap, evaluating teachers, the Race to the Top application process, will he chide teacher unions? lay a plan for higher ed?
A simple answer, no. Not one single utterance about education.
For those of you with a three-quarters of an hour to spare you can listen/watch the speech here. A quick summary:
The Governor called for stronger oversight of good-government advocacy groups “…that hide their donors behind walls of sanctity.” Lawmakers, Paterson charged, had too often bowed to the wishes of powerful special interests, feeding an “addiction to spending, power and approval” and plunging the state into economic catastrophe.
Referring to industry and labor lobbyists in the chamber, he declared, “The moneyed interests — many are here today as guests — have got to understand that their days of influence in this town are numbered.”
Who are these evil “good-government advocacy groups,” that “hide their donors behind walls of sanctity?” Maybe the woman on the train up to Albany who worked for a not-for-profit who lobbied for severely disabled children, or the guy who lobbied for families of the incarcerated. Is it “sanctimonious” to advocate for the powerless? Why are labor lobbyists “moneyed interests,” especially if they fight for members, workers with moderate incomes, who individually are powerless, but, under the umbrella of their union and other unions can fight for safe worksites, or disability insurance, or jobs, or health insurance? Is it evil to fight for adequate funding for public schools?
Why didn’t the Governor attack Rupert Murdoch (NY Post) or Mort Zuckerman (NY Daily News) who have used their papers to crucify teachers, their union, and unions in general. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s because Murdoch and Zuckerman support much of the Governor’s agenda, but, not the Governor!
Democracy is a messy process, To quote Winston Churchill,
“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
The State of the State message was a campaign speech, the Governor has decided to run a campaign against the legislators, to blame the 212 NYS elected officials for the ills of the state, to condemn their so-called profligate spending, their reticence to make cuts to education and health care, and to make ethics a cornerstone of his run. Of course, for twenty years the Governor, was a state senator who fed at the same trough.
Who do you “cut”?
Are schools around the state adequately funded? Do we spend “too much” on Medicaid? Are state and local bureaucracies too fat?
Complex issues. Cutting benefits/services will only punish, it will become a fight over whose ox is being gored. The Governor did lay out a rather vague plan to bring new smart, green, technology-based jobs to the state, especially to underemployed, under-resourced upstate cities.
However, do our schools graduate students able to work in this new work place that requires a higher level of skill? A recent report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform is disturbing.
… earning a Regents diploma is not a clear indicator of preparedness for college. Other facts detailed in the report include:
- Only 7.5% of the high school graduates had taken all the recommended high school courses considered necessary for preparation for college.
- 70% of students entering CUNY’s community colleges failed their placement exams in reading, writing, or math and were required to take remedial courses.
- Of those students entering an associate’s degree program who demonstrated proficiency, only 34% earned a degree within six years.
Advocating for children, for families or for sound economic development must not be disparaged. The Governor’s abdication of responsibility is a disgrace. Economic development will only occur when our public schools and colleges graduate students with skills requisite for the new 21st century world of work.
To oppose Department of Education diploma legerdemain, to submit legislation that supports at risk children, to sue the Department over their failure to spend state dollars to lower class size is at the core of a democracy. The function of the legislature and the judiciary is to defend the rights of citizens.
The Governor may feel more comfortable with the Murdocks and the Zuckermans, as long as we have a democracy teachers and their unions will be fight for children, families and union members.
Democracy may be messy, it’s our obligation to make it work for all of us.