‘Sink or swim:’ Dem chairman rips GOP leaders


Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck covered the waterfront in a Thursday guest opinion blasting Republican education policies.

Larry Kenck

Larry Kenck

The theme was distinctly nautical:

  • Kenck knocked House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, for defending the state’s plan to only repair roofs on two aging Salmon schools. The state will likely step in and loan the district money for the repairs after another failed bond issue May 21; Salmon school administrators have criticized the repair plan, saying it would make more sense to build new schools. Wrote Kenck: “So, Salmon kids, Salmon parents, Salmon community, the state won’t throw you life jacket when your local economy falls overboard.”
  • Kenck mocked Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who recently suggested that family size is a factor in Idaho’s next-to-last ranking in per-pupil school spending. Wrote Kenck: “Luna was elected to be the captain of our education system. Remember last year when the Costa Concordia cruise ship hit a reef and sunk off Tuscany’s coast? That captain abandoned ship while his passengers remained on board desperate for help. Sometimes you just get a bad captain.”
  • Kenck criticized Gov. Butch Otter, who has suggested the state hold tight to a possible $162 million surplus, continuing what Kenck called a “let-it-sink” approach to Idaho’s schools and infrastructure.

Kenck’s kicker: “As we watch those leaders abandon ship, we can’t help but notice that the captain of the Costa Concordia is facing stiff punishment for his dereliction of duty. We can’t prosecute our failed captains though. All we can do is vote them out. And, we will.”

No Democrats have announced plans to run for governor or state superintendent in 2014.

Here, in full, is Kenck’s guest opinion:

On May 21, Idahoans charted a course into the future by voting in local elections to support education. That vote sharply contrasts rocky policies of GOP leaders, who have embraced a sink-or-swim approach to education.

This is what House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the AP about the cash-strapped community of Salmon’s trouble passing a bond to fix an earthquake damaged school: “We’re there to take care of safety issues, and not just there to build everybody new schools because they can’t get a bond passed. That may seem a little harsh, but that’s where we’re at.”

When rough seas toss you toward the rocks, the GOP won’t keep the lighthouse lit.

So, Salmon kids, Salmon parents, Salmon community, the state won’t throw you life jacket when your local economy falls overboard. If your public schools degrade to the point that it’s tough to retain and attract businesses, well, life is “harsh.”

Perhaps in an attempt to be fair, GOP leaders decided to throw all of our children into the same boat, take away their paddles, and let them drift into a “harsh” world. A recent statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau certainly suggests that: Idaho is second to last in how much we invest in each child’s education.

In business, there’s a link between investment and outcomes. So, you would think GOP leaders would greet such a statistic with some alarm. Not so, with Idaho Schools Superintendent Tom Luna. Upon seeing the census statistic, he sailed into the blogosphere to distract people and imply that Idaho is just real darn efficient in how much we spend on kids.

Luna was elected to be the captain of our education system. Remember last year when the Costa Concordia cruise ship hit a reef and sunk off Tuscany’s coast? That captain abandoned ship while his passengers remained on board desperate for help. Sometimes you just get a bad captain. And, that is harsh.

We can’t look to Governor Otter to support education either. He’s led a GOP effort that used the Great Recession to justify cutting education and letting vital infrastructure, like roads and bridges, fall hundreds of millions of dollars into disrepair. His let-it-sink strategy has helped create a $162 million “surplus.” But he says he won’t use it “to go back to the old ways of doing things.” That’s not helpful when “the old way of doing things” included investing in our children’s futures and building strong communities.

What really grates about Otter’s nonchalant attitude toward the pain we suffered during the recession is his recent decision to bump up his salary $4,500 a month by accepting a housing stipend. Is this someone who understands what it means to tighten a belt? He’s the same guy who sends letters to businesses bragging that Idaho is great because we all work for next to nothing. Is this a guy who understands how or why the rest of us work so hard to create opportunity for our children?

Honestly, most of us — Republican, Democrat and Independent — understand that our GOP leaders aren’t putting the interests of Idaho’s communities, families and children first. But as we watch those leaders abandon ship, we can’t help but notice that the captain of the Costa Concordia is facing stiff punishment for his dereliction of duty. We can’t prosecute our failed captains though. All we can do is vote them out. And, we will.