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Some Lincoln Republicans Meet The ‘Do It’ Democrats

Posted on | June 5, 2010 | Comments Off

Yesterday, I wrote in the Huffington Post about a delightful woman in Menlo Park who has taken to tilting at windmills.

In all other respects, Jennifer Bestor seems quite sane, but she felt called to take on the tax inequity caused by the way Proposition 13 treats commercial property.  Unlike houses, businesses don’t sell that often, and even when they do there are cleaver ways to execute a sale so it does not trigger reassessment.  More about Bestor in the Huff Post.

But what I found interesting was her personal politics.  Bestor calls herself a “Lincoln Republican.”  Her family linage extends to an ancestor who served in the Illinois legislature with Abe, and she channels that part of Lincoln who saw government as a way to get necessary things done.  Public education, for example.

We might remember what while Lincoln was trying to find a general who would actually fight the South, he managed to buy Alaska, pass the land-grant college act that would lead to a century of American supremacy in higher education, and, then there was that thing about the transcontinental railroad.  Three years after the war’s end, rails spanned the continent.

Other than David Brooks, I haven’t met a lot of Lincoln Republicans.  There must be more out there, but I think I am seeing a lot of Lincoln Democrats.

These are the folks who have tired of interest group liberalism, or just interest group deadlock.

They have come out fighting to make public services work and to redefine their nature.

For some, in education, this fight has been identified with making achievement the new civil rights.  The Education Trust provides an example. That organization has been dogged–unreasonably so in some cases–about student achievement, and their positions represent an historic break from the dominant belief in class or cultural reproduction as an excuse for low performance among African-Amerian and Latino youth.

Last week I got an email from them announcing their opposition to seniority in assigning teachers at low performing schools and favoring allowing schools to retain their most effective teachers regardless of length of service.  In this, as in other positions, the organization places itself crosswise with the California Teachers Association, which is bound by the terms of its own contracts to defend seniority.  The CTA is stuck–partly because it has a demonstrated inability to think over the horizon–a victim of its own past and the interests associated with contracts that create workplaces where success is difficult.

In contrast, new league of fix-it Democrats is willing to push back against the stalwarts of the party to get public services to work.  Teacher unions have taken a good part of the flack for standing in the way of reform.  They deserve some of it, but the problems extend to the entire institution.  The process of teaching and learning needs to be rethought and reworked, but that’s another story.  The point of this story is that we now see a league of Democrats willing to push back against the system.  Sometimes wisely, sometimes very smartly.

These folks are willing to do straight-on, “in-your-face” politics to get things done.  Los Angeles School Board member Yolie Flores Aguliar comes to mind.  Tired of inaction, she introduced the Public School Choice motion last summer that has stirred the district, teachers union, and charter operators to rapid action.

So, what if the new league of Democrats, who want government to be productive, got together with the Lincoln Republicans, who want to mend public finances?  Would there be a new political party or just a government that got things done?

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