Friday, October 19, 2012

Support These Democratic Ed Reform Candidates

It’s crunch time, folks – the election is two weeks from Tuesday – so if you’re looking to support AMAZING Democrats in tight races across the country who are standing up against the most powerful interest in their party to do what’s right for kids, go to

The list of 30 people may seem overwhelming, so let me highlight a few key races:

A) I’ve heard GREAT things about Al Lawson:

Former Florida Senator Al Lawson (SD-6)
Former State Senator Al Lawson is running for U.S. House in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

Lawson has been a standard-bearer Florida’s education reform community for decades. Between the two legislative bodies, Lawson served North Florida for nearly 30 years, working his way up to Senate Minority Leader. He has been an outspoken and thoughtful supporter of accountability and parental choice throughout the evolution of Florida’s reform movement.

Lawson was term-limited out of the Senate in 2010 and he ran unsuccessfully for Congress against a conservative incumbent Democrat. Even after leaving office, he was a vocal supporter of efforts to create a parent trigger law in Florida.

Lawson is a talented campaigner and he’s well known in the district. The Blue Dog Democrat he challenged in 2010 was a seven-term incumbent - the guy spent $2.2 million and only barely edged out Lawson.

This year, Lawson is running against a first-term tea party Republican who’s completely out of touch. Lawson’s polling numbers are fantastic. His campaign is one of the DCCC’s Red-to-Blue selections, and Politico recently called the race one of the top five potential Democratic upsets in the U.S. House. He’s got a fantastic shot of winning back this seat.

Of course, once everyone realized the race was competitive, the national Republicans started coming after Lawson big time. And, because of Lawson’s steady support of accountability and parental choice, a lot of status quo forces are either sitting out this race or offering meager assistance. Senator Lawson needs the education reform community to show up in a big way.

“Senator Lawson has been fighting for years to empower parents. We’re thrilled he will bring the same determination to Washington, DC.” - Doug Tuthill, Florida State Director

B) Other than the President, you can’t beat the political importance of a Senator:

U.S. Representative Chris Murphy (CT-5)

Representative Chris Murphy is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

A steady education reformer in the house, Chris would be an invaluable addition to the small reform coalition in the Senate. Chris has embraced evidence-based solutions without being partial to any one model; traditional district schools, charter schools, and magnet schools are all great if they work.
Fortunately, Chris is also a seriously impressive candidate. He won his first Connecticut House seat at age 25 by ousting a 14-year incumbent. In 2006, he ran for the U.S. House and beat the incumbent Republican by more than ten points.

Chris has been on our Hot List for more than a year. He’s under 40 years old, so electing him to the Senate could mean decades of Democratic ed reform leadership.

Chris easily vanquished his Democratic primary opponents, but he faces a battle in the general election. His opponent is wrestling executive and eccentric Linda McMahon, so Chris needs to raise enough money to run a very extensive campaign. McMahon proved how costly Connecticut can be, spending more than $50 million when she ran in 2010.

Connecticut promises to be a barn-burner - she’s already been running millions of dollars in ads attacking Chris this year. We need everyone to show up for Chris.

“Having one additional ed reform vote can be absolutely paramount in the senate - and Chris’ leadership can get you more than one vote.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy

C) I met Mary Ann Sullivan in Charlotte at the DNC and she rocks! Check her out in the video DFER showed at its Town Hall in Charlotte, I’m a DFER:

Indiana Representative Mary Ann Sullivan (HD-97)

Mary Ann Sullivan is running for the Indiana Senate in 36th District.

As a State Rep., Mary Ann has always been DFER’s hero in Indiana - an avid booster of high quality district and charter schools. She has been willing to speak out on the need for real accountability, even though the Democratic leadership in the house has scorned her for it. So, earlier this year, Mary Ann began a campaign for state senate instead.

The Indiana State Teachers Association then pulled a really baffling move. They decided to send Mary Ann a message by endorsing her conservative Republican opponent, even though he has nothing in common with the union. Her opponent even voted against full-day kindergarten, but the ISTA would rather put their money behind him than someone they can’t control.

With the ISTA throwing their weight behind her opponent, and in a Republican leaning district, the Republican Party thought this would be a slam-dunk. But the race has become so tight - with some polls showing Mary Ann now in the lead - that Republicans have started to direct money to the race. Mary Ann has knocked on doors and contacted over 13,000 voters in the district since mid-summer, and is planning to launch TV ads if she can raise the necessary funds. She needs the support of the education reform community even more.

"Mary Ann has been a ed reform warrior in the Indiana General Assembly from the minute she stepped in the State House, and continues to be the standard-bearer for what it means to be a reformer. There is not enough time in the day for me to tell you all the reasons why the education reform community should be supporting Mary Ann."  - Larry Grau, Indiana State Director

D) I met Cyrus Habib in August in Seattle. What a story! “He’s a three-time cancer survivor who lost his vision when he was eight years old. He went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Cyrus Habib

Cyrus Habib is running for an open Washington State House seat in the 48th legislative district (Seattle suburbs of east King County).

Cyrus is an inspiring presence who speaks with uncommon credibility about the transformative power of education. He’s a three-time cancer survivor who lost his vision when he was eight years old. He went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Today, he’s a successful technology attorney and community leader in his hometown of Bellevue, Washington. He’s also a disability advocate who was asked to testify before the U.S. Congress.
Cyrus talks a lot about education on the campaign trail - he is openly endorsing the charter school initiative that is also on the fall ballot. He will be an immediate leader in a state with far too few education reformers. Because he is from east King County, the moderate suburbs of Seattle, Cyrus’ positions will not sink him politically. In their endorsement of Cyrus, The Seattle Times’ main point was that “he exhibits a firm grasp of the urgent issues facing our state and supports critical reforms, including teacher evaluations based on student performance and restructuring public-employee benefits.”

The sky really is the limit for Cyrus. He won his primary by ten points. And, because the seat leans Democratic, we expect him to win in November. But he can't take anything for granted.

"Cyrus may well end up being a national education reform leader for decades to come."  Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director

E) Sarah is a TFA alum and the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, now running for Orleans Parish School Board:

Sarah Usdin

Sarah Usdin is running for the third district seat on the Orleans Parish School Board.

Sarah is a superstar of the Teach For America set. She was an early Teach For America corps member and TFA’s executive director in South Louisiana before becoming a partner at the New Teacher Project.

She went on to found New Schools for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the group’s CEO, she was absolutely instrumental in attracting some of the country’s best school operators to New Orleans and supporting them once they’re there. The successes we’ve seen simply would not have been possible without her leadership.

New Orleans schools are approaching an inflection point, and the Orleans Parish School Board is key. Sarah is running to oust an incumbent Republican, who opposes maintaining the strong governance model under which the Recovery School District has progressed.

Sarah will need a tremendous fundraising effort to unseat her opponent, and she’s already well on her way; we learned recently that she is outraising the rest of the field by a mile. With the continued support of the national education reform community, she has a great chance of winning this seat.

“Throughout her career, Sarah has been a pragmatic problem-solver with a laser focus on student success. This campaign is no different. We’re excited to see what she’ll do on the Orleans Parish School Board.” — Joe Williams, Executive Director

F) Lastly, even though he’s not on the list, I hope you’ll join me in supporting Rush Holt (D-NJ), who’s been a great ed reformer in Congress:

Prior to his election to Congress in 1998, Rush Holt worked as an educator, scientist, and arms control expert.  Rush is currently the only physicist serving in the United States Congress.

As a former educator and member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rush believes it is critical that we make the necessary investments in education and sustain those investments over the long term.  Rep. Holt is an advocate of alternative forms of education including charter schools. He led a number of his colleagues in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking for increased funding for the Charter School Program at the U.S. Department of Education.  Because of this effort and President Obama’s leadership, the $256 million provided in 2010 was the first increase in funding for the Charter School Program since 2003.

Rush is also a cosponsor of the All Students Achieving through Reform or All-STAR Act, H.R. 4330.  The bill would enable and encourage the replication and expansion of top performing public charter school models that are successful, and would also strengthen public charter school accountability and transparency. 

For more on Rush, see and to contribute, you can go to:

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