First a disclaimer: the following is my personal opinion and in no way reflects an official stance of my employer.
Last week I was in Raleigh meeting with legislators about issues related to my day job. The North Carolina legislature is a pretty intense place right now and the legislators, who are always busy during the session, were busier than normal for a variety of reasons. As a result we were only able to meet in person with about half of the legislators from the Triad and luckily for me one of those people was Rep. Ed Hanes, a freshman Democrat from Forsyth County. We talked about our issues and just before we said our goodbyes the subject of education came up. That's when it really got interesting.
One of the folks in my group has a child getting ready to enter the public school system. After listening to Rep. Hanes speak about public education she asked his advice about how to approach it. Rep. Hanes took a couple of minutes to talk to her about it, and then he started talking about co-sponsoring an education-related bill with a Republican. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. A Democrat and Republican co-sponsoring a piece of substantive legislation in this day and age? Whoa!
Not surprisingly Rep. Hanes said he was catching some heat over the bill, and given that it's about allowing vouchers to be used with private schools you can bet he's getting heat for multiple reasons: crossing party lines and "sabotaging public education" being the two most obvious. Sure enough the bill was hot enough that it became the subject of a front page article in the 5/30/13 Winston-Salem Journal:
House Bill 944, known as the private school voucher bill, passed the House education committee Tuesday by a narrow, 27-21 margin. It moves next to the House appropriations committee — likely next week, said co-sponsor Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth.
Hanes went against party lines in endorsing the bill, which has received sharp criticism from Democrats and opponents who fear the bill could damage public education. Hanes said that while the plan is not perfect, the latest version of the bill that passed the education committee Tuesday is a marked improvement from the bill’s original iteration.
“When you’re 27 seats down, you have to use the tools you have,” Hanes said. “Vouchers are not the answer. Charter schools are not the answer. Even public schools as we have them currently constituted are not the answer to educating economic disadvantaged students.
You don't have to like the bill in order to like what Rep. Hanes is doing. It's old-school legislating in that he's showing the gumption to take a potentially unpopular stance to do what he thinks is best for his constituents. The man is showing some real backbone because in a very partisan world he's willing to cross party lines and at the same time he's taking on one of the most infuential bodies in NC politics-the public education industrial complex.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to see more action like this in Raleigh and Washington?