Politicians are the unquestionable champions of the statement that makes your head twirl around while emitting the sound, "huh?" You find yourself rereading what you just read or rewinding your DVR to make sure you heard it correctly. You shake your head as you come to the inevitable conclusion that you did, indeed, hear what you thought you heard coming out of the mouth of an elected official.
Remember Reagan's "Welfare Queen" from Chicago's South Side? The story had some basis in fact, since a Chicago woman was found guilty of collecting multiple benefits under numerous different aliases. Most people don't remember the whole story. They remember a welfare queen driving up to get her check in a decked-out pimpmobile. Those of us who worked with people on welfare knew that Ronnie's welfare queen was a preposterous ballooning of a small problem into a gigantic problem of welfare fraud even though all studies showed that fraud was evident in only the tiniest fraction of cases.
Who can ever forget that moment when Bill Clinton, upon being asked a question under oath concerning his affair with Monica Lewinski, responded that it all depended on what your definition of "is" is. Who can forget the insane quotes from any number of members of the George W. Bush administration about how we would be greeted in Iraq as glorious saviors and the war would be over quickly with calm and a fully functioning democracy in place within six months. And of course, there is Colin Powell at the UN trying to convince more than a few skeptics that those trucks in the picture were actually mobile chemical labs.
Yep, politicians have a history of making statements that cause us normal folk to blink rapidly and ask, "say what?" They feel if they say it with enough authority, we won't question its ludicrousness.
Within this context, Alaska Senate President Charlie Huggins' decision to pull the constitutional amendment bill that would allow the state to fund school vouchers from the Senate Education Committee because the bill is not about education has to rank up there in the top ten "say what" statements uttered in the hallowed halls of our Alaska Legislature. Given what has been heard in those hallowed halls over the years, that is truly saying something.
The argument seems to be that this is a question of choice, not education. The fact that the choice would profoundly affect public education is glossed over as merely a byproduct of the action. The real purpose of the bill is apparently to free us from the restraining shackles imposed by the creators of our state constitution, who were clearly pinko commie liberals disguised as patriotic Americans and diehard Alaskans. Thus, this bill is not about education so much as it is about correcting a mistake made by Alaska's founding fathers.
While those Alaskans pushing for this bill are apparently hoping no one will actually see the insanity of the move that took a bill directly relating to education out of the Senate Education Committee, I have to believe that most sane Alaskans are still shaking their heads and wondering how anyone can make that statement with a straight face. Now if Senate President Huggins' plan is to replace every dollar in public education funds that goes into a voucher with more state funds so that public education isn't drained of money, then he might have a program to sell. But if he plans to just take money from public education and send it to private schools, then this is most definitely an education issue. And it belongs before the Senate Education Committee.
Of course, if Huggins and his cohorts are worried that doing so would allow those opposed to the amendment a strong platform in which to make a soundly reasoned argument, then you can understand why they would prefer the issue of a constitutional amendment sail under the radar.
While Alaskans are not idiots (except, apparently, for some of our politicians), we can detect idiocy when it is shoved in our faces. Saying a bill that would change the way education is funded in this state is not about education merely proves that some of the proponents of this bill need to go back to school and learn what education encompasses.
Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
commentBy ELISE PATKOTAK