Gov.-elect Rick Scott spoke to students, teachers and community leaders at the Step Up For Students rally in St. Petersburg Dec. 9. (Photo by Stacy Ferris.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

When people go to the polls to “send a message” or vote with a gut feeling, I get worried.

And this past midterm election was one massive exercise in gut-voting. The electorate went to the polls not to choose the best candidate but to express nervousness and anger.

And you get situations like the U.S. Senate race in Delaware.

Christine O’Donnell was a two-time political loser who had financial confrontations with the IRS and her alma mater, and even Delaware’s Republican Party. Not exactly the stuff of blockbuster campaigns.

But she was cute, anti-intellectual, anti-government and endorsed by Sarah Palin and the tea party.

She took out a respected candidate in the Republican primary, and if there hadn’t been that little matter of her chuckling on a TV talk show about having attended witch ceremonies, she might be a U.S. Senator-elect today. Even after the witch stuff, and despite all her tawdry political laundry, O’Donnell received 40 percent of the vote.

Forty percent.

Here in Florida, Rick Scott was our version of O’Donnell.

Scott had more baggage than the cabin of an airliner during the holidays. But he was endorsed by the tea party. And like O’Donnell, despite his past pecadilloes,  he took out a respected Republican in the primary.

But unlike O’Donnell, he had millions in personal wealth to spend. Scott was also able to re-brand himself. His mother and his wife, who were used extensively in TV commercials, became his public face.

And his opponents’ campaigns — and the media coverage — focused so much on his business dealings that no one paid much attention to some important policy issues. Like his radical views of public education.

So when Scott eked out a win, we ended up with a governor-elect who is trying to rip apart public education.

Vouchers for everyone, barkeep.

“There goes public education,” Pinellas County School Board member Janet Clark told the St. Petersburg Times.

The Times article pointed out that Scott put together an 18-person educational transition team. And there was only one teacher – from an online school, at that – on the panel.

That disdain for teachers is evident throughout the plan, which calls for a push toward online schooling (as the parent of a child who is now taking an online class, I can tell you that is one vile idea), and to cut and restructure teacher pay.

And then there’s the vouchers-for-everyone idea, which would effectively move massive amounts of money from public to private and religious schools. Schools that don’t have to comply with any government mandates or offer programs for special populations (such as special education or English as a second language). It would be the end of public education.

“They’ve been back-dooring this for years,” School Board member Clark said. “And we just got enough fruity voters this time who didn’t do their research … and now we have to live with it.”

Yep. Your message was received, Florida.

It just may not have been the one you intended to send.

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