In a late December (28th) Oakland Press editorial Glenn Gilbert called for more “intelligent discussion” of school reform plans in 2013. He suggested that some of the discussion had been “hysterical” and not based on “facts.”
I agree – (although the term “hysterical” has come to be applied by too many to female politicians they don’t like and “fact-based,” of course, is code for positions pushed by conservative think tank The Mackinac Center).
Nonetheless, as Gilbert says, we need more sustained, civil, and, by all means, intelligent political discussion on a host of issues ranging from school reform to gun control.
But Gilbert’s editorial inadvertently pointed to obstacles – rather than solutions -- in improving our level of political discourse. Gilbert cited paid policy strategists from The Mackinac Center and The American Enterprise Institute, the latter a national conservative think tank.
My concern is not just that Gilbert cited think tanks from the political right rather than the political left. The work of the editorial is, in part, to stake out a position for debate and, on school reform, The Oakland Press has worked rather admirably – say in contrast to The Detroit News -- to present a variety of perspectives.
My concern is that in that calling for more intelligent political discussion on a critical issue for Oakland County schools and property values he couldn’t see fit to call on the people we have actually elected to represent us in these political discussions.
One can’t blame Gilbert for this either.
In seeking “experts” on school reform from the reformist side of the debate Gilbert had to turn to un-elected policy strategists because that is where much of the expertise (such as it is) currently exists.
Because of Michigan term limit law enacted in 1992 we don’t have enough elected officials with expertise or experience in such issues to comment intelligently, let alone debate. Because Michigan state reps can only serve 3 consecutive 2 year terms and state senators only two 4 year terms most elected officials don’t have what it takes to engage in a sensitive, historically informed balanced discussion between teachers, districts, parents, analysts, and so on.
Hence we are left with the lobbyists to frame the discussions that matter most to us. That is, we turn to people primarily if not exclusively interested in grand political ideologies and abstractions rather than in making our real lives work better – the ostensible job of the democratically elected official.
In these politically divisive times we really need the few experienced politicians who have worked to gain the trust of their constituents and their colleagues in Lansing.
Many Bloomfield, Birmingham and Troy public education parents don’t fully realize this but the woman who has the most potential influence on their kids’ future education is not their child’s teacher, school principal, or Hilary Clinton but Lisa Posthumous Lyons, 32 year old second term state rep from Alto (Grand Rapids). Lyons heads the important House Education Committee (a post given to a relative newcomer because, well, there are only newcomers, but also because Lyons is the daughter of Michigan Republican stalwart and Governor Snyder campaigner Dick Posthumous).
We do have elected politicians, such as Senator John Pappageorge, who have served all of us well and know school reform debates intimately enough to have real perspective, dating from the days of Prop A to our seeming preference for all things Mackinac Center. (It is worth viewing on Youtube Pappageorge’s defense of 20j funds, critical to Districts like Birmingham, Bloomfield and Troy, cut during the Granholm administration). It seems just plain odd to call for intelligent debate when we embrace a system that blindly takes some of our most experienced and reasonable conversationalists out of the discussion and turn instead to “think tanks” to talk about what matters most to regular people.
It is time to look, yet again, at Michigan term limits as a means to generate actual discussion by experienced people who know their constituents, the state, their history, and the seriousness of the issues at hand.