We did it! With fantastic, community-wide support, we managed to win an historic election for Seattle School Board.
Election night, we led by 51-48 percent, and with each day’s new ballot tallies, our margin has grown. As of this afternoon, the results are 53-46—a 7-point difference. Wednesday night, my opponent, Suzanne Dale Estey, conceded.
[UPDATE: I have just updated the results to reflect the new numbers posted by King County Elections at 4:30 p.m. today. My margin has grown to 7 percent.]
[FURTHER UPDATE: As of Nov. 8, my margin has increased to nearly 9 points, 54-46, an 11,492-vote difference.]
Why Our Win Matters
This is a victory not only for my campaign, but for communities, families, and educators everywhere who are the key stakeholders in public education, but whose voices are not always heard in the current national debate over education reform, or in our own local school district policies.
This is also a victory for authentic, grassroots democracy. Seattle voters did not allow a small group of moneyed interests to buy this election. My opponent’s campaign and political action committee (PAC) spent a record-breaking $240,000+, a good portion of it on negative campaigning. This amount of money and such tactics are unprecedented in Washington State for a school board race. Yet voters were not fooled by the distortions and diversions of the PAC which attempted to smear my candidacy.
I am proud of my fiscally responsible, volunteer-driven campaign. I am also grateful to everyone who helped us stand up to this barrage of misinformation, and to those of you who promoted my candidacy personally. I want to particularly thank Dr. Diane Ravitch, who recognized that my campaign represented a national battle over the integrity and future of public education. Her support gave important legitimacy to our campaign and to my effort over the years to engage on education issues, as both a journalist and parent.
I have already begun to reach out to my opponent’s supporters. To those who share my commitment to public education, I welcome both discussion and action on the issues raised by my campaign, and I am committed to work together to meet the needs of all our students without resorting to privatization models.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve as your elected representative. I promise to be engaged on the issues and represent all of my constituents who share the goal of strengthening our public schools. I am committed to serving the best interests of all our district’s 51,000 diverse students, families and school communities.
In a recent Seattle Weekly article, my opponent’s political consultant, Christian Sinderman (pictured), accused my campaign of ‘insinuating’ that Suzanne Dale Estey supports charter schools.
But the fact is, many people, both inside and outside my campaign, locally and nationally, have asked this legitimate question: If Suzanne Dale Estey opposes charter schools, as she claims, why have all the major proponents of charter schools, the wealthy individuals who also bankrolled last year’s state charter schools Initiative 1240 (which 60 percent of Seattle voters rejected), and other corporate ed reform agenda items, invested a record amount of money into her campaign, and into the political action committee (“Great Seattle Schools”) they created on her behalf? (For an unprecedented total of $240,000+) And why did they attack my candidacy repeatedly, if she and I are both opposed to their main agenda item?
What are we to believe?
Often, all we have is a candidate’s word on an issue. But what if someone’s words don’t add up? During the course of the last six months, on the campaign trail, both of us have had many opportunities to speak the truth on issues.
So at a forum in September, when we were asked by an audience member to identify our top five donors, many were surprised when my opponent claimed not to know who her top contributors were. Yet, Dale Estey’s top donors include the CEO of one of the biggest corporations in the world, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, the CEO of one the largest foundations in the world, the Gates Foundation’s Jeff Raikes, real estate developer Matt Griffin, and former Microsoft executive Christopher Larson (and now venture capitalist Nick Hanauer) who currently have contributed a combined total of $83,000+ to Dale Estey’s PAC and campaign.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 37th District Democrats endorsement meeting, Sept. 9, 2013 (resulted in sole endorsement for Sue Peters)
Q: from the audience: Will you please tell us who your the top five contributors are?
SDE: You know, honestly, perhaps I should know that, but I don’t. I’ve received over 400 contributions, many, in fact the last time I checked and run the numbers, I haven’t run them recently, I have more contributors below $50 than my opponent has in her entire…. A senior citizen handed me $7 in cash the other day. I value each and every contribution. But no, I can’t name my top contributors. I could probably take a guess. My parents signed up right away. I have quite a few people who are absolutely fed up with the status quo of the school district and I’m very proud to have all of their support.
Sue P: Well mine is very much a community based campaign and I’m funded by a wide range of people and so my top contributors are teachers and parents and families who support me.I can help my opponent out a little bit. Here are your top contributors: Steve and Connie Ballmer, I think they both contributed the max; Jeff Raikes, from the Gates Foundation and his wife. And then Matt Griffin and Christopher Larson, as you know, created a political action committee whose goal is to elect you and Stephan. They’ve already spent $32,000 in the primary to help you, and during that time they went negative against me and spent $16,000 on two negative mailers against me. So these are the contributors to my opponent’s campaign.
I am very proud of my campaign. We are grassroots, community based one. I represent the people. I believe in representing all the community. I believe the school board should be a democratically elected body representing all the people, elected by the people, not by the people with the most money.
In the last month of the campaign, my opponent started to claim in public forums that she “ran Governor Gary Locke’s D.C .office.” But there is no mention of this significant role on her resume. I checked, and was unable to find any record of Suzanne Dale Estey being on Governor Locke’s payroll.
Education blogger and activist Melissa Westbrook researched this and other related issues and discovered that Dale Estey worked in Governor Locke’s office for just three months, as a paid summer intern from June-August 1998. Nowhere on Estey’s resume or in those public forums does she mention the word “internship” or mention the brevity of her experience there. Instead, she has said:
“(…) I’ve got significant public affairs experience in working in education policy at every level of government, from the Clinton White House, when I ran the conference on mayors on public schools, Governor Gary Locke, where I ran his D.C. office, and I’ve worked on education and human services issues for both the City of Seattle and King County Executive Ron Sims….” – Suzanne Dale Estey, Eastlake Community Council forum, Oct. 15, 2013
And then The Stranger has reported that, in 2004, while serving as a lobbyist for Washington Mutual, Dale Estey sent an email to 9,000 employees urging them to vote against the Monorail, while at the same time, serving as a member of the Transportation Choices Coalition, a pro-Monorail organization. Did she support or oppose the Monorail? Both? Who knows.
Why does all of this matter?
Because one of us is going to be elected to the Seattle School Board. And I believe that honesty, integrity and the truth matter.
As a professionally trained journalist, I am committed to facts and the truth. I will bring such scrutiny to my role as your school board director. I will aim to oversee and safeguard our resources and help steer our district in a positive direction that corresponds to the needs and realities of our communities, and to the facts.
I have a proven history of researching and standing up for issues, and being on the right side of them. In 2009, I spoke up against the school closures. Eight months later, the district had to reopen schools at a cost of $48 million. In 2010, I advocated against the weak Discovering Math textbooks. The court agreed and declared the district’s decision to adopt these books “arbitrary and capricious.” In 2010, I analyzed the MAP test in a blog post called “15 Reasons Why the Seattle School District Should Shelve the MAP Test–ASAP.” In 2013, Garfield High School teachers spoke up about the flaws of the MAP, informed by my article. Their courageous action made national news and led to the discontinuation of MAP at the high school level.
Even the so-called “conspiracy theory” that Dale Estey’s PAC accused me of in a clumsy (but expensive) smear attempt last week, merely highlighted my focus on facts and commitment to understanding the bigger picture of education policy, reform and funding.
I will bring such insight and oversight to my role on the board.
As my campaign predicted, the political action committee (PAC) created to get political lobbyist and consultant Suzanne Dale Estey elected to the Seattle School Board, has stooped to yet another low, and attacked my candidacy yet again.
Their latest dishonest mailer arrived in mailboxes citywide Wednesday.
Demonstrating the negative influence of excessive money in political campaigns (a hot topic in Seattle right now, where we have two initiatives addressing campaign funding on the current ballot), the “Great Seattle Schools” PAChas amassed over $100,000 from a small group of wealthy individuals (with no children in Seattle Public Schools) who are apparently desperate to buy the election for my opponent and will resort to any means they think necessary.
What’s more, their latest claim is absurd. They refer to a factual flow chart created three years ago by Seattle Education Blogco-founder Dora Taylor and myself, in which we illustrate the flow of money from two of the largest private funding sources in public education: The Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation.
They label it a “conspiracy theory.”
It is neither. In fact, the primary source of the information for this chart was the Gates Foundation itself.Its informative online database of awarded grants lists where it has invested its money. It’s no secret that education is one of the foundation’s key areas of focus.
Called“The Lines of Influence,”when we posted our diagram three years ago, we received an overwhelming positive response nationwide, for it connected various dots. It documented the role and influence of private foundation money in public education.
(…) For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.
In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.
“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”
The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.
Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.
“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation. (…)
(…) Now a new generation of philanthropic billionaires, including Gates, homebuilding and insurance entrepreneur Eli Broad, members of the Walton family that founded Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), and former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, want public education run more like a business. Charter schools, independent of local school districts and typically free of unionized teachers, are one of their favorite causes. “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that,” Broad said last year at a public event in Manhattan. “But what we do know about is management and governance.”
Already I have gotten responses from people around the city who received this mailer, ranging from utter disgust with the Estey campaign (always the risk with negative campaigning), to compliments for the informative flow chart.
Disappointingly, Dale Estey’s supporters are apparently not interested in discussing the real issues facing our schools, families and students, like serious overcrowding, class sizes, policies that are out of touch with the realities of our communities, curriculum, excessive testing, and equal resources and opportunities for our district’s 51,000 students, just to name a few.
I urge voters to sort through the facts themselves and not be swayed by the distortions of a small group of wealthy special interests (and a candidate who fails to denounce them) who are desperately trying to buy this election, by any means necessary.
I believe the Estey PAC has underestimated the intelligence and integrity of the Seattle electorate.
As a trained journalist and public education advocate, I remain committed to facts and the truth, as I have demonstrated in the past, and will continue to demonstrate this commitment if I am elected to serve on the school board.
Thank you for your support. Please remember to vote. Clearly the stakes are very high in this election.
UPDATE: The Dale Estey PAC mailed yet another dishonest flyer to Seattle voters on Friday, for a total of four such attacks on my candidacy since July. This one is truly bizarre. It falsely attributes to me words and images that were posted on the Seattle Education Blog last year from, I believe, the No on 1240 (anti-charter schools) campaign. The title is “Evil Doers” and it is truly tabloid-esque. My opponent has yet to denounce the mendacious tactics of her supporters. Sadly, some people will say or pay anything to win an election. 11/3/13
The article caught the eye of my campaign because Griffin has also gotten involved in the Seattle School Board race this year, creating a political action committee (PAC) with the purpose of getting my opponent, Suzanne Dale Estey, and in District 5, Stephan Blanford, elected. His PAC, “Great Seattle Schools,” is also funded by former ex-Microsoft millionaire Christopher Larson, neither of whom have children in SPS, and CASE (Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy), the PAC of the Chamber of Commerce (the parent organization of the Alliance for Education).
At a total of $32,300 (so far), Griffin’s financial contribution to my opponent’s candidacy adds up to more than the total contributions of all my supporters combined.
This year, for the first time, there are campaign finance limits for the Seattle School Board race, an idea I have supported for a while. Each individual or organization can contribute a maximum of $900 per candidate, per race (primary and general). But PACs have no limits, effectively offering an end-run around campaign finance reform, and arguably, an end-run around democracy, for it allows individuals with the most money to have greater influence.
Food for Thought
When asked about the behavior of the “Great Seattle Schools” PAC on her behalf, my opponent told the Seattle Times’ Linda Shaw that she is “not going to illegally try to inhibit their freedom of speech” of people like Griffin and Larson. (Independent group enters school board campaign with negative ad, Seattle Times, August 1,2013.)
Well, here’s the question: Are we really talking about free speech — or undue influence? Democracy — or something else? Should our elections be won by those with the most money, or those with the best ideas and qualifications?
My race is a clear example of this choice.
In fact, the primary has revealed a clear distinction between my opponent and myself. I am backed by progressive, Democratic and labor organizations, community leaders and educators, and my top contributors are retired teachers, parents and friends. I am the only candidate in this race endorsed by every Democratic Legislative District (except the one that held its endorsement the day before I joined the race!), and have the sole endorsement of the SEA (the teachers’ and paraprofessionals’ union), M.L. King County Labor Council and the King County Democrats, community leaders like Kay Bullitt, Estela Ortega, elected officials including King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, City Councilmember Nick Licata, State Senators Maralyn Chase and Bob Hasegawa, State Representatives Sharon Tomiko Santos, Gerry Pollet and Cindy Ryu.
My opponent’s top contributors include Microsoft CEO Steve and Connie Ballmer, Jeff Raikes, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, businessmen Matt Griffin, Christopher Larson — who support controversial and discredited ed reforms like charter schools, merit pay, and an emphasis on standardized, high-stakes testing. The person who put I-1240 (the charter school initiative) on the ballot last year has also endorsed my opponent (Tania de sa Campos, of DFER).
As I said to the audience at the Horizon House forum this past Monday, “To quote the late, great Molly Ivins: You gotta dance with them what brung ya’ — and that’s who’s bringing” my opponent, the backers of corporate ed reform.
UPDATE: On Oct. 11, Seattle Mariners co-owner Chris Larson added $15,000 to the“Great Seattle Schools” PAC, pro-charter ed reform PAC Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), added another $10,000, and venture capitalistNick Hanauer added $10,000.
On Oct 14, Hanauer added another $10,000,bringing the total cash amount in the political action committee to elect Suzanne Dale Estey to an unprecedented $96,000. Combined with Estey’s campaign funds of nearly $100,000, this is on track to be the most heavily funded School Board candidacy in Seattle history.
Chris Larson, co-owner of the Seattle Mariners ($30,000)
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer ($20,000)
Democrats for Education Reform – DFER ($10,000) (DFER WA State Director, Lisa McFarlane)
If you believe that a few wealthy individuals should not decide who our school board members should be, and have undue influence on our elected officials and legislative bodies, please support and contribute to my campaign. And please remember to vote by November 5.
Source: PDC reports through 8/19/2013, includes independent Political Action Committee (PAC) and in-kind donations. Certified election returns as of 8/20/2013.
The resultsare in, and my campaign finished the primary with nearly 43 percent of the vote in a three-way race. After garnering 41 percent on election night, my margin gradually rose while my opponent’s gradually decreased. The final numbers give her only a 4.5 percent lead. It’s all pretty incremental and the final tally is quite close.
What isn’t close is how much money we spent on our campaigns and how we chose to get out the vote. My opponent outspent me by 8:1, paying political consultants to help her craft her message and campaign. My community-based, all-volunteer campaign spent roughly 77 cents per vote; my opponent’s campaign spent roughly $6 per vote.
In contrast, my volunteers and I opted to encourage voters to vote for me, with truthful information and 100 percent volunteer, grassroots support.
Fiscal Responsibility Begins with My Campaign
I believe that fiscal responsibility begins right here, with my campaign. As we all know, our schools are woefully underfunded and our state is not meeting its paramount duty to fully fund K-12 public education. Making smart use of limited resources is a crucial skill every school board director will need, and I am demonstrating my commitment to this principle with my campaign.
Trying to buy your way into winning an election is one strategy. Earning votes through true community engagement and fact-based ideas and solutions is my strategy.
Last week, a mailer was sent out to thousands of voters in Seattle School District 4 by a small group of supporters of Suzanne Dale Estey: Suzanne Naughton of the Great Seattle Schools, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE, the political action committee of the Chamber of Commerce), local businessmen Matt Griffin and Christopher Larson.
It contains false and incomplete information about my campaign. My views, qualifications and endorsements are misrepresented or omitted altogether. Though there are three candidates in the race, I am the only one singled out for this treatment.
Like many others, I was disturbed to see supporters of my opponent resort to such dishonest tactics on her behalf, and so early in the race.
Yet, it is also an indication of the strength and appeal of my candidacy.
I am proud of our authentic and smart grassroots campaign, which has focused on ideas and solutions to serious school district issues. Already we have been able to achieve a great deal, powered by dedicated volunteers, and connecting with supporters throughout the city. Our campaign has managed to win significant and sole endorsements, including that of The Stranger, the M.L. King County Labor Council, and various Democratic organizations, and has earned the highest marks in the race from the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee.
The Company We Keep
I was gratified to hear from many voters that the mailer had the reverse effect of what was intended. It made them more inclined to support me, and disgusted with the negative tactic. It even resulted in a surge in our campaign contributions that week. Though her own campaign did not generate the ad, my opponent, disappointingly, has not denounced it.
Meanwhile, I remain focused on issues that are important to the public who value my nearly 10 years of experience and deep knowledge of the Seattle Public School District, my local and national advocacy and service for public education as a Stanford-trained journalist, and my commitment to representing all the people of the Seattle Public School District.
In the interest of truth and accuracy, here are some corrections, for the record.
August 2, just a few days before the primary election, the same group of individuals who launched a smear campaign against my candidacy the previous week sent a second, similar 4-color, two-sided mailer to thousands of voters in Seattle’s District 4.
Once again, real estate developer Matt Griffin, former Microsoft executive Christopher Larson, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) the PAC of the Chamber of Commerce, and “Great Seattle Schools,” a new PAC created to support the school board candidacies of Suzanne Dale Estey and Stephan Blanford, has issued another negative mailer targeting me.
This is a clear attempt to influence the election using unlimited independent expenditures and illustrates the negative influence of unchecked funding in politics. It’s ironic that this group, which is criticizing me for being concerned about the unaccountable, unelected influence of private money on public education, would illustrate my very point with their attempt to influence this election with their private money.