Crist Vetoes Merit Pay: “Best” Enemy of “Better?” Or Something More Troubling?
posted at 3:29 am on April 17, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
On Thursday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the education reforms passed by the Republican state legislature; the bill would have eliminated grade-school teacher tenure and instituted merit-based pay in its place:
The veto puts Mr. Crist, a moderate Republican, at odds with his party base in the Republican-controlled Legislature. His decision has also renewed speculation that he might drop out of the Republican primary for a United States Senate seat and run in the general election as an independent. For months, he has been trailing the more conservative Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, in polls.
Mr. Crist said Thursday that his decision was not political. He cited “the incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators.”
Crist is likely trying to stake out a position as the “third way” candidate in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL, not yet rated), Crist’s former chief of staff, whom he appointed to fill the remainder of Mel Martinez’s Senate term.
Crist trails conservative Marco Rubio by a Real Clear Politics average of 23 points in the Republican primary; either Crist or Rubio would beat the probable Democratic nominee, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL, 95%); but a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday indicates that if Crist ran as an independent against both Rubio and Meek, he might squeak out a narrow victory — Crist 32%, Rubio 30, and Meek 24.
Three caveats might cause Gov. Crist to hesitate before setting off down that road:
- 32-30 is easily within the margin of error; and Rubio’s lead has been growing, not shrinking. If Crist abandons the Republican Party to run as an independent and loses anyway, he has pretty much immolated his political career.
- A Rasmussen poll from late March — which polls likely voters, rather than Quinnipiac’s registered voters, hence is more likely to be accurate — finds a very different picture: Rubio 42%, Meek 25, and Crist 22. Has Crist actually surged against Rubio and Meek? Or is the Quinnipiac poll fatally flawed by surveying registered voters who may not be likely voters?
- In 2012, Florida’s other Senate seat, currently held by Bill Nelson (D-FL, 95%), comes up for election. If Crist remains within the GOP and even campaigns for Marco Rubio if (when) Rubio wins the primary, then Crist can reasonably expect strong party support for him to challenge Democrat Nelson. But if he breaks with the party, runs as an independent, and loses, odds are slim that the party will welcome him back and support him two years hence.
In the end, I don’t think he’ll do it. But the New York Times article above speculates this is a last-ditch effort to move the meter in his direction for the Republican primary, since the education reforms he vetoed are fairly controversial.
Which is, of course, why Crist claims he vetoed them:
The bill was supported by the Florida Department of Education and statewide business groups, which expressed disappointment in the governor’s decision, saying that teachers should be held more accountable.
But the governor, announcing his veto in the Capitol in Tallahassee, said the changes envisioned would put “teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and teaching certificates, without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured.”
Linking teacher pay to student achievement has long been a goal of some education reformers. They are mostly conservatives, but their ranks also include people in the Obama administration.
They argue that teachers should be treated like people in most professions, and paid based on how effective they are.
Let’s take Crist at his word; assume he vetoed the bill because he fretted that teachers would lose their jobs “without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured.” Has the governor pondered the point that no matter what anti-tenure, merit-based system is concocted, it will always be possible that some teacher might lose his job because he had no control over students’ home lives and family relations? That the only realm where we can be sure that no teacher would be fired (or not given a raise) unfairly would be — paradise itself?
In this case, “the best” may well be enemy of “the better.” Assuming (for sake of argument) that Crist is not a closet liberal, unwilling under any circumstances to eliminate tenure — a dream come true for the teachers’ unions — or pay based on actual achievement (a nightmare for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers)… mustn’t Crist at some point be willing to sign onto a conservative, market-based education reform, even if imperfect?
If so, then what is so wrong with this one?
I fear that the most obvious conclusion is correct: That Gov. Charlie Crist really is a liberal Republican, not a moderate; that he really does believe in big and bigger government; and that he has no intention of ever approving any reform that shatters the union monopoly and inviolability of teachers in the great state of Florida, fourth largest state in the union.
Ergo, it’s time for Mr. Crist to return to the private sector for a refresher course in Capitalism. Any scheme to bypass the market is not only counter-economic, ushering in rising costs without a ceiling and deteriorating services with no floor, but also doomed to failure in the long run: In the long view, I believe Americans will always detect the scent of protectionism and special pleading, and vote against it.
That’s why I am a political optimist; and that’s why I say, it’s time for Charlie Crist to go.
Cross-posted to Big Lizards…