Political Report, Wayne Greene: Barresi becoming political hot potato
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2012
10/14/12 at 4:33 AM
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Republican insiders expect two, maybe three, strong GOP opponents to line up against state Superintendent Janet Barresi in the party's 2014 primary, if she runs for re-election.
In part, that's the result of legislative term limits - there are a lot of Republican lawmakers who think they see superintendent material when they look in the mirror in the morning.
But it's also the result of frustration with Barresi's leadership style as the state's top educator, and concern with how that might affect the future of the party and its education reform efforts.
For the past two weeks, Barresi has been caught in a public feud with school superintendents - especially superintendents from metropolitan Tulsa - over the implementation of the state's A-F grading system for school accountability.
Republicans say there's plenty of blame to go around in that feud, and they aren't hesitant to list the faults of the superintendents in the situation. But they are quite upset with Barresi, especially the way she handles public criticism.
When Barresi first got elected, she had a hard time getting along with Brad Henry-holdover members of the state Board of Education. The result was a loud board meeting where the superintendent struggled to maintain authority.
Gov. Mary Fallin and the Republican-dominated Legislature backed her up. They swept the board members out of office and brought in a new slate of friendlier appointees.
But last week, after one of those Fallin appointees, Joy Hofmeister, asked why local school superintendents' questions about the A-F system didn't get to state school board members in a timely fashion, Barresi was once again in a public confrontation.
"You can say what you want about me. But don't impugn the reputation of my people," she told Hofmeister after the meeting in full view of the media.
Republican leaders say that in private Barresi is a passionate advocate of education whose focus is on improving the situation for schoolchildren, but in public, she too often appears harsh and angry, and it's not helping the conservative cause of education reform or the Republican Party.
On Monday, the Fallin-picked board voted - against Barresi's wishes - to delay the release of the first round of A-F grades, and this time Fallin backed the board's decision.
The governor said she still wants an easily understandable school report card, but she said developing a new system of accountability reporting "takes a long time."
"It's appropriate for the school board to say, 'We're listening,' but in the end, ... we are going to have a grading system," Fallin said.
On Wednesday, state legislators who wrote the bill authorizing the A-F system were saying the same thing.
Meanwhile, at a League of Women Voters debate in Tulsa's Senate District 39, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, revealed that he has been approached by people who want to know how to impeach Barresi.
Crain said Barresi is a "lightning rod," but went on to say she was only doing in office what she promised to do when she was campaigning, and he couldn't see impeaching her for that. If voters aren't happy with Barresi's actions, they should defeat her in the election process, he said.
Crain's Democratic opponent, Julie Hall, was quick to jump on the A-F controversy.
"Change for change's sake is inefficient, confusing, burdensome, costly and wasteful," she said.
Elsewhere, Republican House District 71 candidate Katie Henke was actively trying to distance herself from Barresi.
"I was disappointed to learn that Superintendent Barresi had not worked closely with our local school superintendents to develop this system," Henke said in a press release. "I would think that anything as significant as this would be done in collaboration with the local school superintendents who know their schools the best."
The state board made the right call in delaying the release of the first round of A-F school grades, Henke said.
"I don't know Janet Barresi personally, so I'm not questioning her motives, but this situation clearly could have been avoided by working closely with local superintendents to get their input from the beginning of the process," said Henke. "I hope in the future she will form a better working relationship with these individuals, because they are such an important part of our public education system."
If you think Republicans are concerned about Democrats using Barresi against them in campaigns, you're right.
On Wednesday, Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, put out a statement that clearly was trying to make Barresi's name the first thing people think of when they think of Republican education policies.
"The actions of Governor Fallin reflect the intent to distance the Republican Party from Superintendent Barresi and her poor public policies, at least until after the votes are cast on Nov. 6," said Shelton. "She has proven to be an albatross for their party, and she continues to disrespect and defy all those who disagree with her, even her newly appointed and hand-picked Board of Education!"
Shelton drew a clear line from Barresi to upcoming legislative elections.
"The last-minute scrambling of Republicans to distance themselves from Superintendent Barresi and the A-F grading system are nothing more than political posturing," he said. "It was Republicans alone who voted this grading system into law - and it is Republicans who are currently championing the efforts to consolidate our rural schools, close our public schools in favor of privately run charter schools, and who support taxpayer dollars being diverted to provide vouchers for private schools.
"I hope Oklahomans remember that when they're at the ballot boxes in November," Shelton said.
It will be two more Novembers before Barresi's name can appear on an Oklahoma ballot ... if she runs for re-election ... if she wins the Republican primary.
Whether Republican leaders, and, more specifically, Republican voters are ready to throw Barresi under the yellow school bus could be one of the biggest political stories of the next two years.
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Original Print Headline: Barresi becoming political hot potato
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