It is week 140 of our new reality and across the country analysts and advocates are trying to make sense of last week’s elections. “There was a tendency in DC to think of the midterms as one, big nationalized event, when in fact the foremost race in many voters’ minds was a governor’s race–from which down-ballot dynamics flowed,” observed Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
By focusing on what didn’t happen–the anticipated “red wave” of Republican victories in the US House and Senate races that never materialized–there is a risk that we miss what did happen: a “purple wave” of support for both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates who stood up for sensible, constructive policy change that put kids and families first in their states:
- In Colorado, Democrat Jared Polis won reelection by 16 points after securing universal preschool and standing up for charter schools, school reopening and educational accountability.
- In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp–who was elected four years ago by a razor thin margin–won reelection by 8 points after a string of policy victories including a push to reopen schools early, a big expansion of tax credit scholarships and millions more in support for charter school facilities, which gave him the advantage on education in the race.
- In Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont won reelection by 13 points after being one of the strongest voices in his party for reopening schools, signing into law the biggest increase in charter school funding in a generation and announcing the first RFP for new charter schools since 2017.
- In Tennessee, Republican Bill Lee won reelection by a whopping 33 points after making education the centerpiece of his agenda: securing free summer camp for 200,000 kids, doubling facilities funding for charter schools and passing the most significant reform of the school funding formula in two decades. In his victory speech, he declared his intention to continue to make education his top priority.
The same pattern held true for new candidates, like Democrat Josh Shapiro who won his race for governor of Pennsylvania by 14 points in part by distinguishing himself with a full throated endorsement of school choice: “School choice and fully funded public education can coexist in Pennsylvania, so says the Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro. It’s a policy position that strays from his own party and aligns more closely with Republicans.”
Meanwhile, gubernatorial candidates playing cynical political games with education policy–like Beto O’Rourke, who’s closing argument in the Texas governor’s race was a call to end state testing–lost by double digits.
At a time when it felt like the loudest, most extreme voices had succeeded in taking over our politics, American voters stepped forward to make their more sane voices heard by putting constructive public servants back in charge in states across the country. “This week’s election results called into question the power of culture war education politics,” observe Laura Meckler and Anne Branigin in the Washington Post. Or as Tim Carney memorably put it in the Washington Examiner: “Nominating the craziest son of a b**** in the race is not a formula for winning governing majorities.”
Last week’s elections reinforced that good policy makes good politics and candidates in both parties that focused on constructive educational change thrived. Now, we must seize this opportunity to make sure that this purple wave turns into a wave of policy wins in the coming legislative sessions that will deliver the support and opportunities our kids need and deserve.
FROM THE FIELD
How did education advocates do in last week’s elections? Below is the update Jonathan Nikkila, the Executive Vice President of the 50CAN Action Fund, shared with the Action Fund’s supporters last week. Jonathan and team are celebrating two records: involvement in nearly 100 political races across the country and winning 75% of them.
“The highlights of the Action Fund’s 2022 electoral activity:
- In New Mexico, advocates recruited and supported four new elected members of the 10 member Public Education Commission, a statewide charter school authorizer. Combined with the 2020 elections, the team had a hand in electing 7 of 10 members. This was accomplished through excellent candidate recruitment, a fundamental staple of any strong political operation.
- In Tennessee, legislators made tough votes in favor of educational choice and a new student-based funding model, so it was critical that advocates stood by their friends this election cycle. The bipartisan effort resulted in the team winning 17 of 19 competitive seats. In a joint effort with TennesseeCAN Action Fund’s coalition partners, this resulted in gaining five State House seats for educational choice supporters in the cycle, including defeating two incumbents who opposed school choice in the primary.
- In Georgia, the team used their grassroots organizing and political mobilization skills to make 45,486 touches on behalf of candidates in the primary and general elections through doors and phone calls. These were conducted by 46 highly-skilled parent advocates who were able to effectively build support among other parents as a result. They helped make a difference in two tight elections–one for a Democratic champion and the other for a Republican.
- In Delaware, between school board and legislative elections, 13 of the 18 supported candidates won their elections. The highlights included defeating an incumbent in one school board race and doing polling this fall that identified a legislative champion as highly vulnerable in the general election. The team conducted independent expenditures on his behalf and he won one of Delaware’s most narrow races. That’s exactly the kind of data-driven political advocacy the 50CAN Action Fund aims to bring to every state in the network.
- In Hawaii, the team conducted a thorough survey of candidates, hosted the first debates of the gubernatorial election, helped candidates through door-to-door engagement and worked closely with the campaign of Governor-Elect Josh Green.”
Moment of Resilience
HawaiiKidsCAN Action Fund Executive Director David Miyashiro poses with United States Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) at an election night party after a day that saw a number of the Action Fund’s legislative champions reelected. After a string of policy innovations during the pandemic, Hawaii saw smaller drops on the 2022 NAEP than nearly any other state. Now, it will take the momentum into the 2023 legislative session with the opportunity to do even more for kids.