Wednesday evening State Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz spoke at a meeting of the 41st LD Democrats in Bellevue. Dwight Pelz He spent most of the time discussing education “reform” — explaining how for many Republicans and for Democrats such as Rodney Tom, education reform means blaming teachers and finding an excuse to shutter public schools and give money to private, charter schools. If you ask a politician if they’re for reform, they’ll respond, “Sure.” Even Democrats jump on that bandwagon. Commentators accuse Democrats of not having the “courage” to change public schools.

Republicans think they can satisfy the McCleary decision by the State Supreme Court (requiring the legislature to fully fund public schools) without raising revenue: just get more efficiencies from the current system. They want to get great schools by creating charter schools that are free of “onerous regulations.” But they want to impose more testing and regulations on public school teachers. Both Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top are not so useful.

The legislature did make it easier for principals to fire teachers, and Pelz acknowledged that there are some bad teachers. There are bad principals too, and they’re likely to fire the good teachers.  So teachers need some protections.

It’s a myth that our public schools don’t work. Many of them do. The ones that don’t are in poorer districts, where parents don’t have the time or inclination to attend school meetings and to be involved in their kids’ education.    [Note: in a presentation by Ross Hunter and Steve Litzow, it was mentioned that many of the most inefficient schools are in rural, Republican districts; see Report on League of Education Voters forum in Issaquah.]

Even if there were a few high quality schools available to low income kids, those schools would quickly fill up, and the most at risk kids wouldn’t attend, because the parents wouldn’t know or care enough to sign their kids up.   You’re not going to fix the problem by shutting down the low-performing schools and firing the teachers.  But supporters of charter schools accuse Democrats of caring more about the teachers than about the kids.

Pelz’s wife teaches at-risk kids in Seattle and knows all about it.   She works hard to get those kids to care about their education.  She gets up at 4AM to get ready for school and works til 5 PM.

Most of the bad teachers quit in the first five years of  teaching.  Nobody teaches for the great pay, because the pay isn’t great.

Republicans are destroying higher education too. Now the UW is out of reach of many kids, both because of the higher tuition and because a 3.9 grade point average isn’t enough to guarantee admission.

Through the 1950s and 1960s Americans loved their government, thanks to the New Deal programs and thanks to the victory of government over fascism. High taxes and the New Deal led to a strong middle class. Since the 1980s, Republicans such as Reagan have succeeded in convincing voters that government is bad. Hence the concentration of wealth.

Pelz complimented Obama for proposing nationwide, high quality preschool. It would help the kids and would allow the parents to work.

Pelz’s toughest questions came near the end. Someone asked him about the wisdom of welcoming into the Democratic Party former Republicans who switch parties. Are such former Republicans sincere in their switch? Or are they just out to help themselves get re-elected?

This question was in reference, particularly, to Democrat (and former Republican) Rodney Tom, whom Pelz and the State Dems supported in the 2006 and 2010 elections. As you probably know, Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon (another Democrat) handed control of the State Senate over to the Republicans. In return, Tom became Senate Majority leader. Pelz said that Senator Tom speaks convincingly about bipartisanship and centrism, but in reality he is just an opportunist. He doesn’t have the respect of his colleagues for being a hard, competent worker.

Someone asked Pelz: “If Steve Litzow decided in five years that he wanted to switch to become a Democrat, would you welcome him?” Pelz said he’d be happy to help the Democrats retain control of the Senate. Consider what happened in Michigan or Wisconsin, where right-to-work and other horrible laws were enacted by slight majorities. Pelz said that some of the so-called Road Kill Democrats (centrists) wouldn’t vote for right-to-work. You can’t hope for perfection. Consider what happened in Germany after the First World War: leftist parties couldn’t work together, so Hitler came to power.

Pelz said that in retrospect it was a mistake to support Rodney Tom, but sometimes we make mistakes. He can’t kick himself for it.

It’s true that a corporate Democrat is usually better than a Republican.  But I say: a real, progressive Democrat is even better.  We need more progressives to run for office and challenge the corporate Dems.

And we need the State Party to give more support to progressive Democrats such as Randy Gordon, who lost to Republican Steve Litzow by under 200 votes in 2010.

It sure seems that the State Party prefers corporate Dems over progressive Dems. For example, it preferred Suzan DelBene over Darcy Burner.   DelBene caucuses with the corporatist New Democrats; she is willing to cut Social Security. See this article.

Someone asked about how to increase participation by young people in the Democratic Party. Pelz noted that the average age at the 41st LD meeting was pretty high (maybe the average age was 56, he said). It’s no surprise that young people won’t want to attend.  You can find young people at campaign office. (I said they’re probably hired.) But Pelz said that people will attend meetings if they feel the meetings serve their needs. He recalls a meeting in which they invited a police chief, who agreed to start a new program in the city.

Maybe if meetings had childcare, young parents would attend.

Power is the ability to set and meet goals, said Pelz.

Pelz also said that many people are bored by the formality of Democratic meetings (agendas, resolutions, budgets, etc). Some people will only attend the post-meeting at the bar. That’s OK too.

It’s true that without knowledgeable, involved citizens, democracy  — and the Democratic Party — won’t work well.  People aren’t involved enough, and it’s understandable why. I too often avoid attending meetings, partly for the reasons Pelz mentioned, but also because of issues of power, policy, and personality.  You need to be patient, thick-skinned, persistent, and diplomatic to thrive in such groups.  Or you need to be a natural leader.

It’s not only young people who eschew meetings.  Lots of older people who used to attend no longer do, often because of inter-personal conflict or policy disagreement.   This is true in any organization.  I see it in the KCDems too, where there was just a change of leadership.     Heck, even marriages dissolve.  It takes wise and skilled leaders to keep an organization running smoothly.  Excuse my French, but someone said that you need to let everyone piss in the pot, so nobody feels left out.

Some of the most committed activists flee the Democratic Party because they think it’s hopelessly corporatist and corrupted.  But Pelz pointed out the dilemma. If you’re too purist and too leftist, you’ll lose elections, as George McGovern did in 1972.  It’s a fine line between smart pragmatist and corporatist sellout, and there are Democrats on both sides of the line.

As I always say, angry conservatives take over the GOP; angry progressives flee the Democratic Party.  They join third parties or advocacy groups or the local gym. Instead they should fight to kick out the centrist Dems, the way the far right kicked out the moderate Republicans.  It won’t be easy.