Monday, February 13, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Tony Evers
National TV news anchors were calling out Wisconsin voters February 7 immediately after the US Senate barely approved Betsy DeVos as new education secretary.  They wondered aloud if the February 21 primary and April 4 Wisconsin election for state superintendent of schools would reflect the widespread anger of progressives and moderates over the DeVos appointment and keep Tony Evers as the sole statewide antidote to  the right-wing takeover of education and  government.

Since the Evers race is the only statewide contest in these typically light spring elections – usually a field day for state GOP machinery – would progressives translate their universal outrage into supporting Evers or would they subserviently secede to the  two GOP backed opponents (coming down to one by April) who so immediately embraced DeVos in hopes that her  dark voucher school  money would spring to their side?

My easy guess is that the survivor against Evers for April 4 will be John Humphries who can loosely claim education credentials as a (much disliked by teachers I spoke to) assistant administrator for the Dodgeville schools. He hopes to seduce unthinking liberals because he signed the Walker recall petition before renouncing that stand and running wholesale to the GOP and voucher schools side.

Openly pleading for voucher money, Humphries who once worked for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is trying to demean his former boss  even though Evers’ honest approach and his unmatched knowledge of education issues have brought recognition from noted Republicans. When asked in private conversation, Madison opponents concede that he is the straightest of straight shooters, offering compassion and tolerance in the unending debate over school education and finances.

This became clear at two recent events in Milwaukee – a Hyatt fund-raiser for Evers, organized by retired Sen. Herb Kohl and Mayor Tom Barrett who both attended, and an East Side church speech for hundreds on a Sunday, organized by North Shore Grassroots. While Evers is raising money from broad-based contributors, Humphries is relying on business interests in the most recent filings.

Evers is known for being a staunch defender of better and cleaner school funding, both K-12 and college, and he is devoted to his job’s independent authority despite efforts to bring him under the legislature’s thumb.

He openly works  with Scott Walker where he can,  yet has been pointedly critical of some of the governor’s schemes to cut funding and then restore some of it as if it were never gone. (Gov. Walker is  counting on voters’ short term memory to forget he is the one who crippled schools and is now returning some of the cuts in healthy sounding cash, expecting a reward at the polls in 2018 when he runs again). 

Walker only demands accountability that fits his narrow views and actually protects voucher schools from equal accountability with public schools.  In contrast, Evers’  approach and his in-depth knowledge of education from a lifetime commitment have earned him the support of the GOP chair of the state Senate education committee, Luther Olsen, and retired GOP assembly leader Dale Schultz.

Evers  makes a point of nonpartisanship in praising Walker when he sees something good – noting for example how many of the better ideas in the new two-year budget for mental health education and rural schools were lifted near intact directly from Evers’ own budget ideas, something the leader of the Department of Public Instruction gets to submit to the legislature. So also, he  pointedly has noted, are Walker’s belated effort to address the state’s massive brain drain and teacher shortage,  something Evers has long pushed for. He is for any effort by Walker to be “pro-kids”  and return some of the money he has taken away from  K-12 schools over six  years.

But  he is not shy about criticizing when he smells the game being played. On Walker’s latest budget, which forces school districts to abide by teachers paying into health care at Walker’s Act 10 levels, and equating rich districts with poor, Evers notes acidly in his polite manner, "If you're giving a wealthy district the same amount as a poorer district,  over time that takes a toll." 

“We have a long way to go before any of what we heard becomes a reality for the kids in our classrooms,” he points out at his events. 

And he also notes an interesting contradiction in the Nov. 8 election.

Even as Trump won the presidency, some 80% of the local referendums in the state seeking more  local money for school buildings and teaching triumphed easily in that election.  To Evers this points out that whatever the readings of politics on the national level, “People are willing to tax themselves and spend more money when it comes to educating kids.”

That combined with the statewide distress over the expansion of the voucher schools program have led many commentators, both liberal and conservative,  to note how forcefully Wisconsin communities support their local schools and government transparency over the continuing efforts to expand vouchers.

Add to that the genuine fear instilled in parents and teachers by the DeVos appointment and the genuine growing pressure to make sure there are public officials in place who know when and how to resist. Few are more important on the state level that someone who is in charge of standards for all schools, which is the function of the DPI.  In fact, were it up to me, Evers should also be handed the reins for early childhood education, which currently is subject to the vagaries of the legislature.

But that expanded level of educational control  would be great if it is Evers, twice already superintendent,  who is re-elected.  My fear with Humphries is that he is too willing now to be a tool of the governor, not someone who will stand up honestly for the needs of the children. And his pursuit of voucher dark money is more proof if any was needed.

Early in the race, Evers expressed confidence and no fear of opposition.  His conviction may not have changed, but two political realities have crept up. 

One is that the desire to find a Supreme  Court opponent for the well heeled conservative Annette Zeigler failed to materialize, leaving Evers as the only statewide race to attract voters when the electorate is longing for a break from politics – at a time when the nation can’t afford a break.

The other reason is that,  while DeVos will probably be forced into the background of fund-raising for such voucher organizations as American Federation for Children, her campaign in Wisconsin is led by a former GOP name and admitted criminal,  Scott Jensen, and all observers expect  big money wielded against Evers, who has asked the state legislature to look scrupulously at voucher expansion. 

Author Barbara Miner
In a powerful op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee author (and photographer) Barbara Miner has laid out the demoralizing history of Wisconsin voucher schools and the tragic realities behind DeVos’ rise to power.  Miner is now openly demanding action from Wisconsin voters.

It’s not enough “if  you're upset about DeVos,” she says.

“Pay attention to the upcoming State Superintendent of Schools election and vote for Tony Evers. The two conservative candidates are strong supporters of DeVos and privatization. The primary is on Feb 21; the general election is April 4.  This is a statewide election and every person’s vote counts.

“Street protests and other forms of resistance are all-important, but don’t forget to vote.”

The winning candidates February 21 have committed to a Milwaukee forum Monday,  February 27.  at the Zilber School of Public Health, 1240 N. 10th St.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

No comments:

Post a Comment