Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Irish Potato Famine and interviewing Westlund

In one of those bizarre twists of election year doo-dah, the Irish Potato Famine has glued itself to the larger-than-average feet of goobernatorial candidate Ben Westlund.

Yesterday at Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm pronounced that Big Ben voted against a bill to provide curriculum to schools (that's apparently discretionary in its use) on the Irish Potato Famine.

As soon as I read Kari's piece..a bell went off in my head. Westlund...Irish Potato Famine...where have I heard this before?

And then it hit me. I heard it from Westlund himself in the context of discussing local control of schools and school funding (thank goodness I tape all my in-person interviews):

I'm sure when I was first in the legislature,first or second session, I would have voted for some bill because it was a good idea and I thought students should have studied it. Like the--I think it was the classic-- the Irish Potato Famine. How can you be an American citizen and not know the implications of the Irish Potato Famine and what it did for America? While that is a good topic I wouldn't vote for that today.

When he originally made this statement and I was telling TJ about it later, I remember saying something about it being weird that he would go on like that about the Irish Potato Famine.

Within the confines of our discussion however, it made sense. In Westlund's articulated view to me, schools should have local control of funding and curriculum.

So we contacted Stacey Dycus (his campaign manager) to find out why Ben voted this one down. From email, Stacey gives us Ben's statement:

He said there is nothing in the law that prevents the issue from being taught.

But this was a mandate and to some extent, micromanagement of our education system by the legislature. Department of Education shall prepare and make available and Ben supported the position of the OEA with his no vote.

It certainly wasn't an anti-Irish, anti-history vote and for Kari to say so is a distortion. Heck - Ben majored in history -on the campaign we call him professor Ben.

Whether or not this is a "micromanagement" is certainly debatable. The statement within the bill to which Ben refers in its entirety reads:

(2) The Department of Education shall prepare and make available to all school district boards a model curriculum that may be used as a guideline for developing units of instruction under this section. + }

The Oregon DOE is mandated to prepare and make available the curriculum. But no school district appears to be required to use it.

I haven't been able to verify with the OEA whether or not they were against this bill, as Westlund claims. I've got a call in to them and will report back when they let me know.

Update 3:10PM: I just got off the phone with Jeston Black of the OEA. Jeston graciously dug up the 1999 OEA report card which outlines the bills the OEA supports and doesn't support. SB771 didn't make the report card. That doesn't mean that the OEA didn't take a position-just that the bill wasn't crucial enough to warrant a write up on the report card.

He's going to dig further and see if he can find more.