We have written several pieces about the brouhaha surrounding the nomination by President Trump of billionaire Betsy DeVos to be U.S. Secretary of Education. According to Politico, Senate offices have been flooded with calls, letters and emails opposing this nomination.
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey has been contacted more than 50,000 times about DeVos. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says his office has received at least 25,000 emails.
So it was against this backdrop that a letter to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander in support of DeVos signed by Lt. Governor Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill and Senate President Pro Tem Del March caught my attention. Since signees were listed alphabetically by state, the first three names you see are Ivey, Merrill and Marsh.
To his credit, John Merrill called me Wednesday afternoon to discuss the matter. First he asked if I had ever heard of Betsy DeVos prior to about two weeks ago. I told him that I’ve known about her for years and her efforts to undermine public schools. Told him I’ve written about the money she has sent to Alabama for state school board and legislative campaigns.
He told me that a longtime friend of his in Orlando called and asked him to sign the letter and he agreed. The friend is not an educator. While we did not discuss it, my guess is that John lent his name and pretty much dismissed this from his mind. Chances are he had no idea that this would quickly become national news. Here is a story from the Seattle Times. The letter is embedded in this article, complete with John’s name and signature.
Our conversation was civil and John quickly recounted to me a number of family members who have been, or are, educators. Naturally, he said that he was very pro public education.
I greatly appreciate him taking the time to call. (I have not heard from the other two.) I also know that other public school supporters got in touch with him and he called them as well.
I have two takeaways from this.
- John would be well-served to check in with some of his educator family members and friends if a similar situation ever arises again. To say you support public schools and turn around and also support the most anti-public school nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education clearly sends mixed messages.
- There truly is power in the pen (or the keyboard these days) and those who believe in supporting our students, teachers and administrators simply can not remain silent, as too often happens. Every elected official in Alabama works for the public, their pay check comes from taxpayers. NEVER be hesitant about contacting them, especially when children are involved.
And I deeply appreciate those who took action. May your numbers swell quickly.