Profiles in Courage and “Thuggery”

NEA Rhode Island assistant executive director John Leidecker was arrested Tuesday and charged with using his computer to impersonate state legislator Doug Gablinske in the context of the recent election campaign. Gablinske, a Democrat from Bristol, lost to an NEA-backed challenger in the primaries and mounted an unsuccessful write-in campaign to keep his seat. Leidecker, it appears, used the alias “Doug Gablinski” to send emails to Bristol residents misrepresenting Gablinske’s views on such locally charged matters as the idea of putting a toll on the Mount Hope Bridge (and insulting their intelligence in the process).

As usual, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci lets the facts speak for themselves.

But the context for those facts is also telling. Over the past several years, Representative Gablinske played a pivotal role in a series of legislative changes that have boosted the prospects for education reform in the Ocean State. He backed legislation authorizing the creation of Mayoral Academies, mayor-backed charter schools allowed greater autonomy than other charters in the state. He helped lift the charter school cap in order to improve the chances of the state’s successful Race to the Top application. And, as a member of the House finance committee, he supported legislation that replaced Rhode Island’s backward school finance system with one in which all state funds follow children equitably to the school district or to a charter school. (Disclosure: I am on the board of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and testified in favor of the mayoral academy and school finance bills in the Rhode Island legislature.) It is no wonder that NEA-RI identified him as a target.

Gablinske’s vote for the school funding bill was especially brave – and may ultimately have led to his downfall. For complicated historical reasons, the state’s school funding policy had for more than a decade sent several pokies online communities, Bristol included, far more money per pupil than comparable communities elsewhere in the state. Having amassed a clear majority in support of the new policy – and recognizing the risks to Gablinske of supporting it – Gablinske’s colleagues in the house urged him to vote nay. But Gablinske believed that enacting an equitable funding system that facilitated innovation would benefit not only the state as a whole, but even his own community. He was unwilling to compromise.

In short, Rhode Island citizens in November lost the services of a committed and courageous education reformer. While it seems unlikely that Leidecker’s unethical antics made the difference, it is hard to disagree with Gablinske’s characterization of them as “union thuggery.” “People on the outside have no idea the types of tactics used by unions during the campaigns and I don”t think the membership does either,” he went on. “They should be asking questions.” Indeed they should.

-Martin West

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