March 11, 2008

Playing chicken with a Mack truck and living to tell the tale

This year I've occasionally likened Florida politics and policymaking to playing chicken with a Mack truck. Usually, the truck wins. But twice in the past few months, the minority leader in the Florida House (Dan Gelber), has won the game, most recently by getting out in front of a mail-in redo of the Democratic presidential preference primary. While the Miami Herald story doesn't mention Gelber by name, there is no doubt that Gelber's mid-February blog entry was the first trial balloon.

A disclosure here: I've worked with the House Democratic caucus a few times in the past on education issues. I think I've observed Gelber enough to see a connection between this presidential election politics story and state education policy, since I've seen two other times when Gelber's made an impact by being out front on an issue, and in the other two cases, it was education. One was a presentation to the Florida Board of Education that the Department of Education responded to with a broad statement about accountability philosophy (not yet up on the FCAT external advisory group webpage), and the other was on end-of-course exams as a replacement for the high school FCATs. In the first case, the statement was the most reasonable thing I've seen out of the department on accountability in the 12 years I've been in Florida. On the end-of-course exams, he may have jumped in front of a crowd heading down the street anyway (was it Adlai Stevenson who defined that as political leadership?), but his timing was dead on. In both cases, he took a few risks that I haven't seen from other Democratic caucus leaders in the past decade. I suspect he's had a few run-ins with that truck which I haven't observed, but evidently he keeps getting up and going on.

Gelber is running for a state senate seat being vacated in the middle of the term, so if he keeps that seat, he could be in the state senate for a decade (two years for the remainder of the current term plus two full terms). If he keeps avoiding the Mack truck, he could have a long-term impact on the state's education policy.

Update: Splat. That's egg on my face, if not the Mack truck. Now you all know why I'm keeping my day job...

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Posted in Education policy on March 11, 2008 7:37 PM |