Yesterday afternoon, the legislature released the committee assignment lists, naming each legislator to one of the myriad legislative committees. As an education policy guy, the first list I checked was the list for the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, the committee to which all education-related bills are sent for consideration.
The list contained few surprises. Eight of the committee’s members were members last session as well, which means that, unlike last session, the majority of members will be committee veterans. Rep. Peter Edgecomb was on the committee two sessions ago, so he too is a veteran. Sen. Justin Alfond, who chaired the committee last session, is on the committee again despite also serving as Senate minority whip, and will doubtless be an important voice on the committee again this session. Sen. Brian Langley, who served in the House last session and who has proven to be a thoughtful and hard-working legislator, will co-chair the committee with Rep. David Richardson, a smart and seasoned legislative veteran in his fourth term.
One name, though, is curiously missing from the committee list, and that is Rep. Alan Casavant (D–Biddeford). Rep. Casavant, a high school teacher now in his third legislative term, was an important voice for education reform last session. He was an ardent supporter of charter schools and other school reform initiatives, and was one of the very few committee members who, presciently, as it turned out, expressed concern that the state’s Race to the Top legislation didn’t go nearly far enough.
It was Casavant, for example, who proposed replacing the Baldacci administration’s ludicrous “innovative schools” bill with a charter school bill. He did not prevail, ultimately, either in the committee or on the House floor, but he unquestionably led the charge and emerged as one of the committee’s leading voices, Republican or Democrat, in favor of meaningful school reform.
Now, instead of being returned to the committee that by all logic he should be on, he has been banished to the State and Local Government committee, which, I can tell you from personal experience, isn’t exactly a hotbed of legislative intrigue.
The question is, why?
Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? The MEA, which did not endorse Casavant despite his being a Democrat on the education committee, almost certainly leaned on House Minority Leader Emily Cain and got her to shove Casavant off the committee. How else to explain why a high school teacher in his third legislative term (only Rep. Wagner, among Democrats on the committee, has as much seniority) got bounced from the education committee?
They saw him as a threat, and got him booted. What other possible explanation can there be?
Other voices for reform will, of course, emerge from the committee, which is a strong and seasoned one even without Casavant’s presence. The MEA is obviously on the wrong side of history with regard to school reform, and meaningful reform legislation, some of it no doubt sponsored by Rep. Casavant, will be approved by the committee despite what I suspect were the machinations of the MEA. Maine people want school reform, and they’ll have it. But, unfortunately, because there are forces in Augusta that put politics before people, one of the legislature’s leading voices for school reform will not be at the table to help craft the reform legislation we need.
That’s a shame.