What's Up With K-Flo and School Choice?
Like Governor Mark Sanford, former Governor David Beasley and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, we've always been big fans of GOP Superintendent of Education nominee Karen Floyd.
Seriously, what's not to like?
Floyd is successful, eloquent, attractive and a virtual shoo-in to win election over Democrat Jim Rex in November.
More importantly, Floyd emerged during the 2006 GOP Primary as a solid pro-school choice candidate, advocating a sensible "Put Parents in Charge" compromise targeted exclusively at children trapped in failing or below average schools.
Recently, however, Floyd's campaign has bumbled a series of publicized exchanges with the Rex campaign that - to some - muddy the waters of her previous school choice bona-fides.
Specifically, Floyd has stated that she doesn't support giving "public dollars to private institutions," leading many political observers wondering whether she is running to the center in an effort to avoid heat on the issue.
It goes without saying that strategy in a general election differs dramatically from strategy in primary elections, and that many candidates often retreat in the former from positions they had staked out aggressively in the latter.
But does Floyd's apparent waffle on school choice constitute such a shift?
Of course it does.
Floyd's campaign is being run by Washington D.C.-based consultant Jon Lerner, who also happens to be Gov. Sanford's most trusted political advisor. Lerner, a devout conservative from the Arthur Finkelstein school of campaigning, has also worked for the Club for Growth and is rumored to be a consultant to the SCGOP, as well.
Lerner is an expert at campaign tactics and minimizing the negative impact of incoming attacks, making it highly likely that Floyd's tack to the center is an effort to diminish the potential ill effects of Rex's lone avenue of assault against his candidate.
It is probably no coincidence that Sanford recently told reporters that government restructuring - not school choice or tax cuts - would be his top priority should he be elected to a second term.
The question is - does Floyd's apparent retreat symbolize an actual change in the candidate's thinking on this central issue? Or is it simply a tactical consideration?
Given the steady flow of school choice dollars into Floyd's campaign coffers (and the presence of Lerner at the controls), odds are the move is entirely tactical in nature, and that she maintains her philosophical allegiance to choice.
At least we hope so.
Having said that, some compelling questions should be asked regarding the advisability of such a retreat, to say nothing of the fumbling manner in which it was conducted - on Floyd's opponents' terrain and a time of her opponents' choosing.
With most polls showing support for school choice at an all-time high in South Carolina, why would Floyd not embrace the issue? Particularly against a poorly-funded, virtually-unknown opponent?
Furthermore, why would Floyd risk alienating the core constituency that funded and led the grassroots push to secure the nomination for her in the first place?
Maybe Floyd and Lerner both know that whatever disappointment or confusion these comments may have generated among school choice supporters, none of them are likely to precipitate a mass exodus.
That's why we continue to believe that despite these recent comments, Floyd remains personally committed to school choice, which we also believe will be sufficently demonstrated by the ongoing support she receives from groups like South Carolinians for Responsible Government as well as, we assume, her decision-making once elected.
Her status as an unapologetic public defender of the issue, however, is presently not viable.
In fact, the whole GOP school choice head-scratching exercise reminds us of that famous line from the Dr. Suess book, Horton Hatches an Egg:
"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful, one hundred percent."
Whether on tax cuts, spending limitations, restructuring or school choice - all South Carolina Republicans would be wise to heed Horton's message.