As I pulled onto the Wilbur Cross Parkway in New Haven, I looked up the road towards the Heroes Tunnel. On the New Haven side, all was grey, shrouded in an early morning autumnal fog. You couldn't even see the trees that surround the tunnel entrance. Yet looking down the parkway, through the tunnel, I could se bright yellow light at the other end. It was striking, not only for its beauty but as a highly cliched metaphor;the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I emerged on the other side, the sun was out, illuminating the brightly colored leaves which had recently changed color. Thin wisps of fog were threaded amongst the trees; a gentle reminder of the grey behind. If I had read the description in a novel, it would have seemed contrived, but here, it was beautiful. I thought of what's been going on in my own life. What is the light at the end of the tunnel for me, right now? Is it election day? Am I riding from a foggy present into a bright sunny future? What of the autumn leaves? They are both beautiful, but also harbingers of the coming winter. I'm sure that political soothsayers can find plenty of omens for me.
My thoughts drifted to church yesterday. During the sermon, the priest spoke about becoming like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. She spoke about how the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Then, she told a story about her daughter, waking up with song to celebrate the refracted light on her ceiling which she saw as a glorious rainbow.
The thought stayed with me as I drove to work, keeping my eyes open for the beauty around us, that we too often miss. There is less than a month until election day. It will be an incredibly busy month, but hopefully, I can keep an eye out for the beauty along the way.
Today, there is a re-vote in the Fifth Assembly District in Connecticut, where the primary ended up a tie back in October. Leo Canty, a Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut is running against Brandon McGee. I've known Leo for a long time, and he has contributed ten dollars to my campaign.
Recently, the Great New England Public Schools Alliance has spent nearly $32,000 as an independent expenditure on Mr. Canty's opponent. That's more than Mr. Canty can spend as a participant in the Citizens Election Program. To me, this appears to be another example of an outside interest group trying to buy an election.
Education reform has always been a key interest of mine, and I'm always interested in what people, and organizations actions say about their real interests. I'm not sure that the behavior of this organization sets a good example of how people should be involved in the political process.
A while ago, I received their endorsement survey. Given my concerns about the organization, even before their latest actions, I set it aside and didn't complete it. Last night, I returned to the survey and completed it. It may be that the survey has changed over time, or that it is an adaptive survey that didn't ask more probing questions depending on the answers, however, I have to say it was one of the worst constructed surveys I've encountered so far.
It asked three yes or no questions:
Do you support paying teachers substantially more for effectiveness?…
Do you support empowering parents by giving the majority of parents in a failing school the option to effect a turnaround or transformation of that school?…
Do you support the promotion of appropriate reforms to governance structures, such as the newly created Commissioner's Network, which prioritizes the interests of students?
I answered Yes to all three, and added a comment:
I have signed the Common Cause Fair Campaign Pledge:
'I pledge to ask all outside spenders to refrain from outside spending in my race, including all
independent expenditures and issue advocacy advertisements that attack my opponents or
party or support my candidacy or party;'
I've often talked about how we should not judge the success of our students, their teachers, or their schools by how well students fill out multiple choice tests. It is very disappointing that this education reform organization resorts to multiple choice questions for their endorsement.
As an illustration, I think my answer to their second question reveals some of the problems. I believe that GNEPSA and I have very different views of how to empower parents. My view is that the process needs to be very fair with key checks and balances. For example, the best way to empower parents to change schools is to have fair local elections, with no outside money pouring in, for not only State Representatives, but also for local school boards. We need level playing fields in the discussions about how to reform schools, and not just money pouring in from large organizations that have agendas beyond the education of the students in the district. Another way to empower students is to get parents more involved in the schools, through parent teacher organizations. Parents and teachers need to be encouraged to work together to improve the schools, and teachers should not be vilified for conditions beyond their control as many education reform organizations tend to do these days.
Yes, we need education reform. It is tied to electoral reform and promoting fairness and transparency. I don't think the multiple choice questions or the third party expenditures of GNEPSA does anything to achieve this.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. October roles around, the first full month of Autumn. It is dark when I get up, except for the lingering light of the setting harvest moon. I've often wondered if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is harder for me to get going during these shorter days. At work, I have a light that Kim got me last year to get more simulated daylight.
Work continues along an even course, but all my free time is getting sucked up with the election. There are roughly fifteen thousand voters in my district. Slowly, surely, I've been contacting as many as possible. Perhaps not as many as I would like, or as others would like, but I'm making progress, and the words of one friend stay with me. Elections are not sprints, they are marathons. I've built a solid foundation for my campaign. I've hit my stride. Now, just to keep the pace for the final month.
Besides voter contact, I've been working on refining my policy positions. One thing comes back to me from my years of writing, show, don't tell. At back to school night for Fiona, the teacher spoke about trying to get the kids to incorporate this concept into their writing. I've been thinking about it in policies as well.
How do I help connect people back to their community and to their government? By connecting more with voters, the community and the government. I try to keep this in mind as I attend events and meet voters personally. How do I address education reform? Perhaps an important part of this is to nurture my own love of learning.
Last night, I spoke with Fiona on her radio show about reading books on smartphones. She enjoys reading various books on her phone and I suggested tweaking it so she can get books out of the library or from project Gutenberg. I spent a little time getting some books onto my phone as well. Reading Margaret Fuller's Memoir may be more helpful in forming policy positions than reading many papers from various organizations.
Fuller is an interesting character and I'm enjoying reading her writing. She was part of the circle of Transcendentalists in Massachusetts during the mid nineteenth century. Here story and writing ads an interesting layer to the writings of Emerson and Thoreau. I would love to see explorations into politics, religion, literature, the arts and civic life that we saw from the Transcendentalists, perhaps with a touch of the Great Awakenings of the preceding years. Somehow, the political landscape today seems so far from this.
But the early morning hours are slipping away. It is time to get ready for another day and another month. Although it is not part of the great intellectual milieu of the nineteenth century, the old childhood invocation, Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, harkens back to a time that perhaps, wasn't really all that much simpler, but still holds great appeal. May the month be lucky for all of us.
For a while now, I've been wanting to write about the soundtrack for my campaign for State Representative. At different times, there have been different songs that have been going through my mind as I campaign, and today, the Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the Amity Teen Center added to that celebration. Really I should write two separate blog posts, but I've been finding less time to write during my campaign, so I'll combine the two.
One song that I often get stuck in my head as I campaign is The Indigo Girls, "Closer to Fine"
I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Yeah, I go door to door. I make phone calls. I greet people at fairs. I'm constantly trying to tell people something about my life. I'm constantly listening to people talk about the issues, and trying to find the nuance, the insight between the black and white that dominates so much of political discourse these days, and one of the best things I've found is to not take life, or the political campaign too seriously; it's only life after all.
Sometimes, I end up sending notes to people; email, postcards, something scrawled on a flyer, anything that I can use to reach another voter.
Sometimes, on these notes, I leave my phone number. "If you want to find out more about my campaign, please call me at (203) 298 0814." When I write something like this, the words of this year's earworm, "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen, comes to mind:
Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe?
So call me, maybe? Or even better, Vote for me, Maybe?
Today, I stopped at the Amity Teen Center for its Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration. I saw a lot of friends there, mostly parents, but some kids I knew as well. I must admit, I hadn't been to the Amity Teen Center before. Perhaps some of it is because of my experiences as a kid when I got dropped off at places like that after my parents separated and my mother had to find some place for me as she went back to work.
Yet the Amity Teen Center had a very different feel, something that appealed to my inner teenager, as well as to my thoughts about education. I've often talked about how teaching to the test is serving our students, as well as teachers, parents and towns poorly. When our students go out into the workforce, their ability to fill in the correct ovals on standardized test forms isn't going to be what leads to their success. No, there ability to speak publicly, relate well with their co-workers and be creative is going to be much more important.
My daughter was part of the Multi Age Group, or MAG, at Beecher Road School. This program taught twenty first century skills of creativity and cooperation which are already serving her well. As I looked at the art work on the walls and listened to teens from the Amity Teen Center, it seemed like those skills are being reinforced there.
I spoke with one Amity grad who was in the MAG program at Beecher Road School, and then later spent much of her free time at the Amity Teen Center. Unlike so many recent college graduates, this young woman has found a good job in a rough economy, working in New York City for a creative agency, and I suspect much of her success is the result of programs like MAG and the Amity Teen Center.
But I was talking about the soundtrack of my campaign, so let me get back to that. As I was leaving the Amity Teen Center, the first act started on the stage. A young man, guitar in hand, approached the mic. He hit a few chords on the guitar and launched into "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", by Green Day.
It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.
Yes, life is unpredictable. If you asked me, a year ago, if I ever thought I would be running for State Representative, I'd probably have looked at you as if you were crazy, but in the end it's right. I am running for State Representative. I'm having the time of my life. I hope my campaign is having a positive effect on the people I meet; helping them become more connected to their community and their government. Hopefully, I'll end up in Hartford, where I can continue to have a positive effect on the people from Woodbridge, Orange and Derby.
Yesterday, I received an email from the Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative asking me
Do you support Connecticut Citizens having the right to a statewide initiative and referendum mechanism?
My initial reaction was mixed. I'm a big supporter of getting people more involved in how their government is run, and on the surface, it seems like ballot initiatives would be a good thing. But, when I thought about how they've been used, or perhaps abused, in other states, I had second thoughts.
From Pros and Cons of ballot initiatives there are several concerns expressed.
One of the objections to ballot initiatives is
Initiative proposals can be misleading. Some initiative proposals use oversimplified language, which means voters are at risk of making uninformed decisions.
Perhaps the initial question falls into this. Yes, I support Connecticut Citizens having the right to a statewide initiative and referendum mechanism. The real question is, what would that mechanism look like?
What should be the requirement to get an initiative on the ballot? The more questions we have, the more it will cost to have ballots printed. Should initiatives be only available to people who can come up with some sort of hefty filing fee? Should an initiative require some number of signatures to be gathered? Again, there's the cost of verifying the signatures. How many signatures should be required? Should there be some sort of distribution requirement of signatures?
As an example, to get on the Working Family Party line on the ballot, I had to gather about 100 signatures. Would it make sense to require at least 100 signatures from at least 76 different Assembly Districts?
Another concern about ballot initiatives is
Initiatives can be passed without any information about how they will be funded. There is no organized procedure (like a legislative hearing) to examine costs or how the initiative, if passed, will take away from other
necessary government programs.
This is related to the previous concern about people not being properly informed about a ballot initiative. Perhaps as part of the ballot initiative process, any initiative that gets enough petition signatures to be on the ballot should have a public hearing at the Legislative Office Building, similar to bills brought by legislators. In addition to that, perhaps such initiatives should go through the Legislative Commissioners' Office "to be checked for constitutionality and consistency with other law". Then, go through the Office of Fiscal Analysis to get an estimate of costs of the bill and the Office of Legislative Research to add a plain English explanation of the bill.
Another concern about the ballot initiative process is
Unlike candidate campaigns, there are no limits on contributions to ballot measure Campaigns. As such, wealthy individual and institutional donors can exert tremendous influence over the ballot measure process.
Should some sort of public funding of ballot initiatives be added to address this issue? Should rules be put in place to prohibit the use of paid signatures gatherers? Should there be a requirement about publishing the fiscal analysis and plain English explanations of the initiative? Who would pay for such publishing?
Yes, I support Connecticut Citizens having the right to a statewide initiative and referendum mechanism. It is a very important and very powerful mechanism that needs to be set up very carefully so that it doesn't become yet another method for powerful special interests to get their way at the expense of Connecticut Citizens.