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Jennifer Berkshire (aka EduShyster) recently raised money by crowd-sourcing so she could spend a week in Michigan learning about the DeVos family and its crusade to privatize public education.
She describes Betsy DeVos as “The Red Queen.”
It begins like this:
By the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. “Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.” But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success….
A characteristic DeVos move in Lansing traces a familiar pattern. A piece of legislation suddenly appears courtesy of a family ally. It pops up late in the session, late at night, or better still, during lame duck, when the usual legislative horse trading shifts into overdrive. So it was with a controversial bill that popped up 2013, doubling the limits for campaign contributions—a limit that no one in Michigan was wealthy enough to hit. Well almost no one. The GOP jammed the measure through, Governor Snyder signed it, and it took effect immediately. “The DeVoses then got their whole clan together and held a check writing party,” recalls Jeff Irwin, a democratic state representative from Ann Arbor who was recently term limited out. “It was a love letter to the richest people in Michigan and they delivered with a huge thank you.”
I was captivated by the image of the extended DeVos clan gathered on New Year’s Eve 2013, writing check after check to Republican candidates and caucuses to the tune of more than $300,000, an exercise they would repeat just a few months later. Did they sip champagne as they signed? Did their hands grow weary? For the DeVoses, the ability to give even more money means that they can exert even more influence. “When you empower a billionaire family like that, you give them more power,” Michigan Campaign Finance Network director Craig Mauger told me when I stopped by to see him in Lansing. Just blocks from the Capital, his office is in a part of the city that teems with the lobbyists who hold so much sway here. His building is home to not one, but two different for-profit charter operators. “The DeVoses are tilting the field and changing the structures of politics in Michigan.”
To understand why the DeVoses exert so much influence, and more importantly, why their power has only increased in recent years, a quick session in civics is required. Today’s topic: term limits. Approved in 1992 by voters in a “throw out the bums” state of mind, term limits have radically reordered the state’s political landscape. Legislators here can serve no more than three two-year terms in the House, and two four-year terms in the state Senate—the strictest limits in the country. “They’re in office for such a short time that it doesn’t pay off for them to build a strong base of support in their own districts,” Steve Norton, the head of the public education advocacy group Michigan Parents for Schools, explained to me. Instead, legislators are highly dependent on the party machinery, down to being told which way to vote. “They salute and follow caucus orders,” says Norton. As both the funders of the GOP machine, and its de facto operators, that means that the DeVoses essentially control the legislature these days. “They are the 800 lb gorilla.”
In Michigan, no one says no to the DeVos family. They have bought the legislature. They defeat legislators who dare to say no. They own the state. Is that too strong a statement? Read this blistering, frightening article.
The DeVos family use their money strategically to achieve their goals. They are not just a threat to public education. They are a threat to our democracy.