Date: March 11, 2004
Subject: Get Yecke

In case you haven't noticed, Cheri Pierson Yecke is in the DFL crosshairs. She has been attacked at every conceivable turn, for her leadership on the new Academic Standards, blamed for the fallout from the new U.S. Mint rules governing the state quarter dollar program, and chastised for a technical error on setting cut scores for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). With Education Minnesota's vote of no confidence this week in the MCAs, the stage is being set further for a bitterly partisan flogging of the Commissioner during her confirmation hearings in Sen. Steve Kelley's (DFL-Hopkins) Ed Policy Committee.

Carrie Lucking, a teacher and department chair of the social studies department at Hopkins High School, has circulated an online petition under the flag "Alliance to Block the Confirmation of the Commissioner." The opposition forces have successfully mobilized their base to do what grassroots activists are supposed to do: sign the petition and contact their legislators with a unified message.

In response, I decided to circulate my own online petition to support Yecke's confirmation. (Thanks to King at SCSU Scholars for the promo.) The Taxpayer's League of Minnesota posted a similar petition on their web site, EdWatch issued a press release in support of Yecke's confirmation, and the Republican Party of Minnesota has encouraged their activists to support the Commissioner.

In response to this response, Lucking recently told her network in an e-mail:
It’s time for a second round of calls and letters! Although we have over 2600 signatures on our petition, groups are beginning to mobilize in favor of the confirmation of Cheri Pierson Yecke. They have created a counter-petition. This week, EdAction and EdWatch have asked their members to call or write their State Senator in favor of confirmation. We MUST counteract these contacts.
The disconnect or irony here is that commissioner confirmations are customarily fairly nonpartisan. The recent and future DFL attacks on Yecke amount to meddling in a popular governor's ability to govern as mandated by the voters who elected him. On a recent installment of "At Issue," the Sunday public affairs show with Tom Hauser on KSTP Channel 5, former DFL Governor Wendell Anderson commented that the Senate should confirm a governor's well-qualified appointments, and that the governor should be held accountable for his policies by the voters. The problem for the DFL is, right now Governor Pawlenty is very popular. So one way for the party out of power (in the House and governor's mansion) to stick it to the party in power is to block some appointments, especially a certain high-profile appointment.

The Governor and the Republicans in the Senate are solidly behind Commissioner Yecke. Her resume and list of achievements in 2003 show that she is an obviously well-qualified and engaged commissioner — whether you agree with her (i.e. Gov. Pawlenty's) policies or not. When the DFL began attacking the Commissioner, Gov. Pawlenty suggested that as an alternative they should "try winning an election." Knowing that Gov. Pawlenty was personally responsible for Yecke's accepting his appointment over a similar offer from Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the stakes will be high over this confirmation. Sen. Kelley's committee may recommend to not confirm, but the final decision will hinge on a dramatic vote on the floor of the DFL-controlled Senate. If the Senate votes to deny the confirmation, two things will be immediate: the end of Yecke's term as commissioner, and a careful examination of the roll call vote by the governor.

Most of the teachers I talk to are not into politics. They just want to teach. They are fed up with the partisan back-and-forth over the standards and education in general. They wonder whether Minnesota should go back to a state board of education to "depoliticize" the appointment of the education commissioner. Sounds tempting, but recall that the state board of education was disbanded in 1999 because it was "too apolitical," in other words, out of touch with the public. That was before the increasing influence of the federal government in education very much changed the role of the Commissioner of Education into what it is today.