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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Bruce Rauner Is Karen Lewis’s Worst Nightmare

“There is nothing worse than a combination of arrogance and ignorance—combined with a healthy dose of money.”

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

I talked to Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis late last month to ask her when the union would issue its endorsement in the race for governor. Would Pat Quinn, by default, be the CTU’s choice? At that point Quinn had not yet selected Paul Vallas as his running mate. 

Now he has, and I contacted Lewis again yesterday to ask about the Vallas pick. Lewis’s press secretary told me she was in meetings all day but sent me her statement on Vallas.  I wasn’t surprised at her harsh take on the man who headed CPS under Daley and then went on to head school systems in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the latter he was, effectively, slammed with a no-confidence vote when pro-union, anti-Vallas candidates won a majority on the elected school board.

Lewis wrote that the CTU “has supported Governor Quinn in the past because of his commitment to grassroots organizing, publicly funded public education, and collective bargaining.   For these reasons we are concerned about his choice of Paul Vallas as a running mate.” 

Lewis charged that as CPS’s CEO, “Vallas pioneered the corporate driven education model in our city…. Vallas ushered in an era of massive expansion of standardized testing; the privatization of public schools through outsourcing and charter school expansion; and the devastating policy of school turnarounds, which resulted in the firing of scores of black and veteran teachers.” She referenced a 2010 PBS interview in which Vallas “appallingly stated that he did not see any downside to charter school proliferation, believed that there was not enough faculty turnover in education, and did not see a need for collective bargaining.” She concluded with the hope that Vallas would “support proposals for an elected representative school board” and “denounce privatization schemes.” 

Here’s an edited transcript of our telephone conversation:

When will you issue your endorsement for governor? I’m assuming it’ll be Pat Quinn since he’s, for all intents and purposes, the only Democrat running.

It’s not me, it’s the CTU rank and file that decides. They have a process they go through.  I doubt it’ll be a Republican. I assume it’ll be Quinn. They’ll start meeting in January and February.
 

I have written a lot about the friendship between Rahm Emanuel and Republican Bruce Rauner. Your thoughts on that?

Clearly Rahm and Rauner are good friends. And Rauner is a very close adviser to Rahm. It goes to show you that there’s no difference between the political parties. There’s only one real political party and that’s the party of money.
 

So what about Pat Quinn. Is he a member of the “party of money?”

Pat Quinn is way better in ideology. Bruce Rauner is a nightmare. I have nothing good to say about him. He would be damaging to every working person in Illinois. He’s the worst nightmare. As governor, he’d be a menace to society. There is nothing worse than a combination of arrogance and ignorance—combined with a healthy dose of money.
 

So you’ve told me what you think of Bruce Rauner. What about Pat Quinn?

I don’t think Pat Quinn is that kind of person at all. I think Pat Quinn wants to do the right thing. That’s always been his goal.
 

How is Quinn on issues of importance to CPS?

I think on the spectrum if you’re going zero to 10 on the question, say, of charter schools, Rauner would be a 10;  Rahm a 8.5; Pat would be 5 or 6.
 

How important is the governor to the welfare of CPS anyway? Does it really matter that much who’s governor?

The governor has the ability to push bills and to get legislators on his side. He has to make some decisions. Part of the problem we have in Chicago is we don’t have anybody we can go to who is accountable because the mayor has control of schools completely. We need an elected representative school board. One person should not have that kind of power. 
 

Have you talked to Gov. Quinn about an elected school board?

Yes I have. Pat Quinn has never told me no. [Quinn has expressed support for an elected CPS board.] At a press conference on Tuesday, Vallas said he would follow Quinn in support of an elected school board.

 

Postscript
So Lewis is unhappy with Quinn’s choice of Vallas, but realistically, she and the union she heads are stuck with them. Where else are they going to go? Rauner? Brady? Rutherford? Dillard? Not a chance. Most interesting here is that Karen Lewis felt compelled to issue a statement about a pick for lieutenant governor. This race might be the only one in recent history in which anyone noticed the number two. Can anyone name even one of the aforementioned Republicans’ picks for lieutenant governor?

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