Nick Hanauer, the local progressive plutocrat who's written things published in The Stranger and who now pays former Stranger writers to write stuff for his think tank, is profiled in The Atlantic's new issue. It's a good read, showing how Hanauer's combination of vocal advocacy and well-funded citizen initiatives is getting results on everything from higher wages to gun control.
The best part of the Atlantic piece is when Hanauer starts cursing up a storm:
Hanauer cites with particular bitterness a meeting shortly after the 2012 election between Valerie Jarrett, the senior Obama adviser, and a group of labor leaders. According to two sources in the room, Jarrett responded to a suggestion that the minimum wage be raised by saying the economy was still far too fragile. “The president’s closest adviser believes, in her heart, that if poor people do better, that will be bad for the economy,” he told me, practically spitting with disgust. “That’s fucked up! That’s fucked up,” he said. “It’s bullshit. But that’s how deep that stuff goes.” (Jarrett, who declined to comment on the record, has publicly voiced support for raising the minimum wage.)
Fuck yes. It's great that Seattle has a homegrown, foul-mouthed billionaire who's pouring money into initiatives to raise wages, regulate guns, and research into how workers can earn benefits in the "gig economy."
But what about when a homegrown, foul-mouthed billionaire is wrong? The Atlantic story doesn't even mention his backasswards-stance on education and charter schools. As with any billionaire, whether his influence is used for good or ill depends solely on his own judgment. And when that judgement isn't sound, as with charter schools, the results aren't pretty.
Exhibit A: The dishonest attack mailers Hanauer financed in an attempt to prevent progressive Seattle School Board member Sue Peters from winning office in 2013.
Exhibit B: Hanauer's cringeworthy answer yesterday to whether his pro-charter schools position has changed at all, particularly since the State Supreme Court outlawed them in Washington. Warning—extreme levels of hubris:
This echoes his response in July when asked on Reddit to explain his support for charter schools. He argues that teachers don't want to be held accountable to any standards—a standard right-wing talking point—and adds:
I've also been a supporter of charter schools for one very simple reason: competition is nature's way of forcing us to improve ourselves. In the absence of competition, we sit on the couch and eat Snickers bars and watch TV and get fat and lazy.
Wait, what? Studies and post-mortem reports (e.g. New Orleans, New Jersey) across the country have found that charter schools underperform compared to public schools or end in failure. But this guy wants us to divert funding for our public school system, which is severely underfunded, into charters... because if we don't we'll all get fat and lazy and watch TV? What does that say about his worldview?
Here's what Goldy reported in 2012, long before becoming a paid shill for Hanauer, when Hanauer and the Bezos family used their vast resources to pass I-240 to create charter schools in Washington:
Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) studied charter schools in 16 states comprising 70 percent of charter school students nationwide. Researchers found that 37 percent of charters actually performed worse than traditional public schools serving demographically like communities. Only 17 percent of charters performed better; the rest did about the same.
And here's what the Stranger Election Control Board wrote: "If there were a single credible, independent, peer-reviewed study to suggest that charter schools do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools, we might drop our opposition to this measure. But there isn't."
The initiative passed anyway, only to be struck down this September by the State Supreme Court as unconstitutional because the schools aren't governed by elected boards. Seattle's own First Place School, which has struggled mightily, will become a private school.
So Hanauer is the inverse of the right-wing Koch Brothers—smart and principled and helpful to progressive causes—except for those times (which conveniently go unmentioned by The Atlantic, as well as Gawker) that he happens to be misinformed or stupid about something and makes things worse. I find it hard to get behind Hanauer's talk of creating "deep structural change" in America when, on the issue of, you know, education, he sounds a lot like Donald Trump—and he has billions of dollars in the bank to change the system however he sees fit.