Monday, November 12, 2007

Answer to a Reader - Why I Was Once a Republican

A reader, VAB251 has asked: So Michael, please tell us what it was about the GOP that once appealed to you? The question deserves and answer since I am now pretty ruthless in my condemnation of the GOP. Here's a brief run down of how I came to be involved in the Party (some of which has been touched on previously in posts about my closet years):
As the father of three academically gifted children, a significant issue as they grew up was that of the quality of the education that they were receiving in public school. Most public schools, unfortunately, aim their curriculum at the low middle. This is particularly true in the elementary grades where students cannot self-select more rigorous courses. Rather, it tends to be a one size fits all approach, with the most capable students frequently being left to their own devices, or like my son, getting into mischief because he was bored silly (in second and third grade he was reading years ahead of grade level and often was simply given other books to read and amuse himself while the class covered course work he had mastered long before). Most of the public does not realize that gifted students have a higher drop out rate than regular students and are not assured of doing well in school, if not challenged and properly supported.
As one who believes in public education as the vehicle for social advancement of the general population, I did not want to abandon the public schools in favor of private schools. Many of my fellow attorneys, doctors and others with more political clout did so and the result was that those who were best positioned to demand that the schools be improved just walked away. Ultimately, in the spring of 1994 I ran for school board on a plank of fiscal responsibility (the school division was on the brink of a $12 million deficit), improved academic rigor, and merit pay for teachers. The local affiliate of the National Education Association (which pretty much controlled the local Democratic party) did NOT like those principles and soon I was targeted as "Christian Right" and an enemy of public education. In fact, affiliates from NEA affiliates in 17 states (even Alaska) funneled money into the Virginia Beach election.
It was a nasty, nasty election and I ultimately lost by a slim margin to a quack - he literally had a bogus Ph.Dbacked by the teachers' union (he ultimately was convicted of soliciting bribes from school contractors and was forced to resign). I was treated so vilely by some teachers at our local elementary school that we transferred to younger two kids out of the neighborhood elementary school to another one nearby which had a less hostile principal and stronger academics. Meanwhile, the budget deficit exploded, the school superintendent was forced out and a number of school board members resigned because of the illegal budget deficit. Because of the rancor and my positions during the campaign, I was popular with many people in the local GOP and was invited to join the local city committee for the Party. At the time, moderates controlled the Virginia Beach Party as well as much of the state party apparatus. Individuals like John Warner were the norm instead of the exception. Moreover, the Party then had more of a libertarian mindset - individuals were free to run their own lives as they saw fit with minimal government intrusion.
At roughly the same time, I was elected as President of the Virginia Beach Association for the Gifted and Talented ("VBAGT"), a non-profit parent-teacher association that advocated for improved gifted education. I held that position for four years. During that time period, the VBAGT effectively advocated for improved gifted education resources in the elementary schools and universal identification procedures in second grade - often referrals for gifted services were done by teachers only and often missed the truly gifted students who were minorities or behavior problems due to boredom, etc. The VBAGT also successfully supported the formation of a gifted magnet middle school, the introduction of the International Baccalaureate program at one of the high schools, and a number of other academic improvements for academically and artistically gifted students. These successes only served to increase my standing in the local party as someone who was on top of education issues.
Sadly, during this period, the Christian Right began to infiltrate the GOP and eventually moderates were either forced out or simply went inactive. Since Virginia has off year state elections (versus the federal election cycle), there are elections to be worked EVERY year. It becomes exhausting and it becomes difficult to keep people psyched and involved. This, in my view, left an opening for Christianists at the grassroots level to get involved, first by working campaigns and party functions, donating funds, and then by gradually getting elected to local party and state committees. The change did not happen over night, but in looking back, it should have been more obvious to many than it was at the time.
I still favor fiscal responsibility, limited government - especially when it comes to personal rights and decisions - and things that once were the hallmarks of the old GOP, dating back to the 1960's. Those days are gone and so is the GOP of yesteryear. I will vigorously oppose the GOP until it returns to its one time roots and dumps the Christianists and the likes of the Chimperator and Emperor Cheney.


Java said...

Clear and insightful explanation, Michael. I'm not sure where I stand, politically. Still a registered Republican, but more and more I find myself at odds with the party. Not sure I'm ready to embrace the Democrats yet, though. Husband says he's Libertarian. I dunno.

Anonymous said...

Wow, and thanks.
Could you please tell us what the NEA does not like about fiscal responsibility, merit pay, and acedemic rigor?
Yes, I'm asking for you to debate the issue from the other side so that I can understand it better.