THE BLOG
06/02/2010 06:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2011

Has Andrew Romanoff's Spine Gone Weak?

In yesterday's interview with EdNewsColorado Andrew Romanoff refused to take a position on the most progressive piece of education legislation passed this year: Senate Bill 191 -- The Great Teachers and Leaders Law.

On an issue that has torn the Democratic Party in two, Andrew shied away from a definitive stance, instead making blanket statements that all Democrats can agree on. With cute sound bites, and a nervous tone, Andrew argued for comprehensive evaluations, more arts classes, and better funding. Who in the Democratic Party doesn't agree with that? Is this the type of leadership Andrew will bring to Washington -- how stiff of spine do you need to pander to everyone in your party?

It's true: as Speaker of the House Andrew was good for public education, leading a charge to reinvest in our school's physical infrastructure. In this most recent interview Andrew tells the moving story of a girl in the San Louis Valley lacking the technological resources to compete with her peers in Denver's wealthy suburbs.

It's also true Andrew told EdNewsColorado that he agrees with the central premise of SB191: teachers are the most important factor in a child's education -- second only to parents of course. He knows it doesn't matter how attractive your classroom is, or whether you have access to an LCD projector, if the teacher at the head of the class is not up to par.

So why hasn't Andrew taken a position on SB191? The answer is simple: politics.

Andrew Romanoff is walking the tightest political tightrope of his career, and he's doing it hunched over. The most vehement opponents of SB191 are the bread and butter of his base: party insiders and unionized teachers. These hard-core doorknockers won't work nearly as hard for a candidate who supports reforms lacking union blessings. But Andrew isn't going to win the August primary without mainstream Democrats -- and they support education reform.

Andrew loves to bash incumbent Senator Michael Bennet for his decision to accept PAC money, arguing it makes him beholden to the needs of special interests. But when it comes to a Democratic primary I can't think of a larger special interest than the National Education Association. NEA members typically account for a quarter of all delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and one can rightfully assume the same is true at the state level.

Andrew may not be taking their money, but he's gladly accepting their support, and there's no doubting his love affair with the NEA. In his 2008 DNC speech Andrew carved out a special place for the state's largest teachers union, lauding them for the role they played in earning Democratic control of the statehouse and governor's mansion. It would take a pretty stiff spine to go back on them now.

My guess is that Andrew actually supports SB191, he's too forward thinking not to. But that is not the point. As one of our state's most prominent leaders he can't continue to play politics with our nation's most challenging issue: education.

Andrew: when it comes to progressive education reform, stiffen your spine or step out of the way.