Notes from the Small Town Underground

Keep Making Catawba County Proud, Senator Wells

I have come to praise a fine piece of legislation that’s recently emanated from the General Assembly, courtesy of Catawba County’s own Senator Andy Wells. The bill, Senate Bill 480, would prohibit public school employees and charter school board members from engaging in any political or partisan campaigning, or the use of any school equipment and/or supplies for such, during work hours. Before Senator Wells gets a wild hair and decides to spread the fun by preventing the rest of us from speaking out against current laws and the legislators who pass them like so many bad farts, I need to remind folks that if there’s one group that does not get enough due praise and credit for all the hard work they do for the great state of North Carolina, it is the members of the General Assembly. It takes not only a lot of concerted effort to steer our state through the worst economic downturn we’ve experienced since the Great Depression, but also Balls of Steel to bring about improvement by taking the state straight to the bottom (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) so that the only way it can go is up.

Call it a legislative form of tough love, but the pain our state’s little people have been feeling since the 2008 downturn from having tax credits, unemployment and welfare benefits taken away, from having fewer jobs available (and jobs that pay significantly less than the ones we lost), and being unable to access health insurance through Medicaid, is but a necessary hiccup in order for the true benefactors of the state, the wealth job creators, to regain the money they lost in the Great Recession so that they can get back, post-haste, to the business of creating those high-paying jobs – that is, once they no longer have to worry about having more of their money taken away and spent on government services whose only purpose is to create a dependent underclass. It’s not the rising tide of shared prosperity that lifts all boats – boats that, let’s be real, the little people can ill-afford anyway – but rather the leaks of undue tax burdens and regulations that threaten to sink the vessels owned by the wealthy. Once those taxes and regulations are bilged from their leaky boats, then and only then can we talk about smooth sailing for NC in the form of jobs, jobs, jobs and a stampede of businesses that want to relocate to our state in order to take advantage of these economic reforms that cause money to flow like wine, rather than dissipate like smoke from an RJR cigarette.

Our stalwart and disciplined members of the majority leadership in the General Assembly understand better than anyone who the real defenders and saviors of our economy are, even if the majority of the state doesn’t have a clue, and they are willing to ignore any evidence to the contrary in order to unwaveringly implement their economic and political ideology for the good of the state. They don’t need your stinking approval because they know you will thank them later once you start feeling the loose change jingling in your pocket. In the meantime, Senator Wells and his colleagues would thank you to please shut the hell up while they go about the important business of solving the complex problems facing our state today, and they can’t very well do that with legions of teachers and public school personnel whining about matters they’re too ignorant and ineffectual to do anything about in the first place, let alone suffer the indignity of them using time and equipment paid for with tax dollars to make their annoying racket.

Credit is due to Senator Wells for acknowledging our teachers’ recent and keen interest in state politics and, in so doing, anticipating their need for a uniform code of conduct across the state regarding political campaigning during work hours, by way of clarifying beyond any shadow of doubt the same such codes that all 115 school districts have in place already. Because he and his fellow legislators see first-hand the confusion that can arise from the sausage-making of writing our laws, he is merely trying to spare the staff of our school systems the same heartburn. Those quick to complain fail to appreciate how this bill helps our public schools run more efficiently, enabling them to do even more of what they’re paid with increasingly fewer of our tax dollars to do. With our schools stretched for time now that teachers are managing class sizes of 30+ students with fewer teaching assistants, the guidelines provided in this bill are meant to help, as opposed to byzantine state standards and the districts’ frivolous insistence on local control. Senator Wells knows intimately well that politics is not for the faint of heart, and he would very much like to spare our educators as well from the agony of defeat and personal mud-slinging that comes from playing with political fire. It’s the good senator’s polite way of saying that because he would never consider telling a teacher how to teach, teachers shouldn’t tell him and his colleagues how to govern. Because teachers suck at politics, in other words, they should stick to what they do best and everyone will get along just fine.

Senator Wells and his colleagues also appreciate how schools stretched for time may have difficulty in enforcing this policy, so he has crafted the bill in such a way as to not be one more thing piled onto the schools’ overflowing plates. Senator Wells’ bill signals the graciousness of his colleagues in their willingness to take on enforcement as their job, and SB 480 provides an excellent mechanism for doing just that. Wells learned in his recent senate campaign against former educator Pat Hensley that there is a lot of concern among people in his district and around the state about the political activism of our teachers. When these fine folks came forward, it didn’t take him long to realize that with an army of snitches in the state, we didn’t need the schools to rat out their own people. All the GA needs is for some solid citizen to alert them to activity that violates this policy, and they will turn the matter directly over to some enforcing state agency to prove that the incriminating email and/or Facebook post was time-stamped during school hours or originated from a state-owned computer, and before the dismissal bell rings that teacher will be run out on a rail, hopefully in the most humiliating way possible. And just like that, the school gets rid of a rabble-rouser among their ranks, and school officials save face with their staff and community, thanks to the GA’s willingness to play the bad cop in this scenario.

It will only take making examples of a few bad apples to encourage more law-abiding and -respecting members of the teaching profession to report incidents that are more difficult to prosecute, such as casual conversations or comments of a political nature in the hallways or teachers lounges. If that doesn’t work, then surely the bill, once it becomes law (fingers crossed), can be amended to implicate those teachers who hear political or partisan comments and fail to report them. Since all schools have an honor code in place, this will just be a mere extension of that policy. Here again, we only need to call a few teachers to appear before an investigative committee in Raleigh and ask them the time-honored question guaranteed to get at the truth and stamp out activism before it spreads: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of a group of teachers that discusses politics during school hours?” History and social studies teachers, too, would be wise to start using more politically palatable interpretations on any controversial subjects they teach, or avoid them altogether. When the message gets through to where teachers become fearful of speaking politically even during their free (non-working) time, then we’ll have irrefutable proof that the law is working – and Senator Wells will deserve a goddamn medal.

Look, Senator Wells is to be commended not only for saving our teachers from the taint of this unbecoming business before it spreads, but also for shining a light on the situation so unforgiving that even supporters of public education blinded by their ideological allegiance will have no choice but to see it for themselves. And we thought politicians were resistant to such sunshine. Far from it. This is all part and parcel of Senator Wells and his colleagues’ diligent efforts to show us the widespread wrongdoing that threatens to unravel the moral fiber of our state. They’ve already stamped out rampant voter fraud by requiring i.d.’s and reducing early voting hours, and they’ve severely curtailed the prevalence of unemployment recipients using their checks to buy liquor and drugs. I ask you, if the GA doesn’t lift the rock on these unsavory truths, then who will? If they don’t nip this shit in the bud now, then when? Even if, after all these efforts to save us from moral depravity, the evidence indicates there’s still more smoke than fire, they can at least be assured of their desired outcome by repeating the same thing enough times until the public believes it. At any rate, the absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence. This proposal to prevent teachers from engaging in politics during school hours is simply the latest front in their valiant struggle to return moral decency and civility to NC. Who wants to live in a state with people disagreeing with and shouting at each other all the time?

If any of you think that a bill like this contradicts the small government rhetoric of Senator Wells and others, you’re missing the forest for the trees. You may have been slithering under a rock and missed how Wells and his ilk have been hard at work to perform gastric bypass on our state government by restricting the flow of funds to its coffers. However, it is not lost on them that the most direct and expedient way to a government of manageable size is to limit the number of people who participate in it. The stage has been set in NC by passing the aforementioned voter I.D. law as well as the redistricting plan that sustains the advantage of the party currently in power, but squelching the input of a whiny and pampered constituency that can’t seem to find anything nice to say about the work they’re doing only seals the deal. If the General Assembly was at all interested in the opinion of these educators before cutting off their livelihood at the knees, they would have asked them in the first place. Of course they know these budget cuts will create hardship and be unpopular with a large number of people! It’s just that reminding them of this, or riling up others over it, falls under the category of true-but-useless information and distracts from the real issues of making our wealthiest citizens wealthier and achieving near-bottom status for the state in all relevant categories.  How these educators manage to become political power players at all with their antiquated computers and slow bandwidths is beyond me, but thank goodness Senator Wells is determined to get to the bottom of it for us.

It also may be hard to see how a piece of legislation as fine as this aligns with Senator Wells emphasis on job creation in the state, so let me help you out there a little bit too. Everybody knows that teaching is one of the easiest and overpaid professions in the state. Sure, they might be managing a classroom of 30+ kids with varying degrees of proficiency, English-speaking ability and socioeconomic status, and they might find it hard to find time to go to the bathroom or afford the supplies and textbooks they need, but who wouldn’t want a job with shorter days, loads of holidays and three months of vacation in the summer? How dare they complain about budget cuts when real estate moguls like Senator Wells are the ones really feeling the pinch of today’s economy? There was a time when these people could be rich and create jobs; now, sadly, they’re relegated to just being rich. Isn’t this ungrateful behavior by teachers like biting the hand that feeds them? What part of government should be run more like a business don’t they understand?

The fact of the matter is that if teachers have enough time on their hands to mount political campaigns, there must be a tremendous amount of dead weight to be cut among their ranks in order to make way for those souls with enough commitment and missionary zeal to teach children more out of pure love than a decent salary. Plus, everyone knows how notoriously hard it is to get rid of teachers. SB 480 provides the mechanism to clear out this deadweight so that we can create jobs (see what I just did there?) for the many across the state who are willing to do more for less pay. I understand childcare providers are earning around minimum wage, so maybe we can recruit them from there. It’s all glorified babysitting anyway, right? Besides, if a teacher is prosecuted under SB 480, he or she obviously didn’t care about the profession or value their job that much in the first place. Good riddance to bad rubbish! And if we’re concerned about the migration of good teachers to other states that pay more, we should be thrilled how this bill will create the perfect opportunity to attract fresh-eyed recruits from the 8 states with teacher salaries lower than NC.

It takes minds smarter than mine (given that I’m partially a product of NC’s broken public schools) to understand why people fail to see the complexity of reasoning and economic calculation that goes into legislation like SB 480. The ignorant among us may view this as a solution in search of a problem, or trivial and a waste of time when there are more important matters to address, but that’s because we don’t understand that there is no more important matter before us than creating jobs, and that the only way to do that is by making sure NC’s businesses and wealthy citizens get the resources they need. You see, it used to be that the burden of job creation was distributed more widely, that it was entrepreneurs and small business owners (and, by extension, the schools and teachers who taught these critical business-creating skills) who were responsible for creating the majority of jobs, but not anymore. If we’d just pay heed to the sage counsel of folks like Senator Wells and his colleagues, we’d understand how the confidence in our economy has been rattled so deeply to its core that only the heavyweights and captains of industry (and Art Pope) have the means and wherewithal to pull our wagon out of this ditch. It’s their world, and we just live in it.

Our legislators are fond of saying that the schools are broken, but what’s really broken is the confidence of businesses and the wealthy. If we don’t act quickly to restore that confidence by diverting more and more tax dollars toward them (and with public education receiving well over 50% of the General Fund, it’s the biggest pot to take from), they might – perish the thought! – pick up their ball and go elsewhere. For that reason, I hope you’ll join me in saluting and thanking Senator Wells for his steadfast defense of this beleaguered class at the expense of our ungrateful educators by submitting SB 480. We really do need to put an end to the indignities suffered by these good people having to listen to the pissing and moaning of the hired help. Here’s hoping Wells’ bill sails smoothly to swift and easy passage so that our esteemed General Assembly can proceed with carrying out the bidding of the titans of industry in reviving the economy without any distractions. Besides, Senator Wells has his work cut out for him in transforming the seat formerly held by a senator who consistently earned the rating of least effective, and passing consequential legislation such as this is a bold step in the right direction.

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