Yesterday, we found out that Democrats are abandoning StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's right-wing, Republican money funnel that pretends to be a bipartisan education "reform" group. Among those leaving are Hari Sevugan, a Democratic insider who was serving as Rhee's communications director. According to Joy Resmovits's reporting, Sevugan and other Dems were leaving SF because "It gets tiresome to have to defend who we are."
Well, it looks like Sevugan got nervous when this story starting making its way around the edu-blogosphere. When Diane Ravitch linked to Resmovitis's story, Sevugan rushed in to make sure he wasn't burning any bridges unnecessarily:
Couldn't wait to get home to write this, huh, Hari? Were you nervous that this story was going to get out in front of you and paint you as a Democrat who had abandoned his party for the lure of StudentsFirst's tasty money?
Read the whole thing: it's a classic case of someone trying to play both sides of the fence. StudentsFirst is great! Unions are great! Everybody's so freakin' great! Can't we all just get along?
This is, of course, how the political consultancy class operates: you never know where your next gig is coming from, so don't piss off anyone if you don't have to. And Sevugan is quite the political animal : DS Wright reminds us of the announcement SF made when Sevugan first came on board:
Democratic National Committee national spokesman Hari Sevugan will move to a top post at the former Washington, D.C., school chief Michelle Rhee's new advocacy group, Students First, a move aimed at strengthening its hand in the complex and high-stakes politics of education policy.Now, maybe some particularly gullible saps within the Democratic establishment bought this line back in 2011. They wanted to get their hands on some of that lovely billionaire lucre; if that meant screwing over the teachers unions, it would be worth it to them.
Sevugan, 36, a lawyer and veteran politico who also taught for two years in a public middle school in Upper Manhattan, will serve as vice president of communications, a source familiar with the plan said.
But while Sevugan's role includes setting up a rapid response operation and press shop for a group that didn't have a full-fledged communications operation, the move also sends a political signal: Michelle Rhee's push to weaken the hold of teachers unions has won her enemies in the labor movement and among some Democrats, and allies on the Republican right, and Sevugan will aim to clarify her attempt to establish a bipartisan profile, the source said; he has already begun to reach out to some of the group's progressive critics.
The move is intended to bring "the reputation of the group back to a non-partisan place after being seen, undeservedly, as overly friendly with Republicans," the source said. "Students First has strong relationships with many Democratic establishment hands including [former White House Communications Director] Anita Dunn.. and has worked with Democratic and Republican officials on a number of issues. But because some of the more prominent work has been with Republican governors including scoring some stunning successes in unlikely states like Nevada, that partisan reputation has been thrust upon it," the source said. [emphasis mine]
The problem is that StudentsFirst has now been through an election cycle, and Rhee's loyalties are crystal clear:
Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents. And Rhee’s above-the-fray bona fides have come under heavy fire as progressives and teachers unions increasingly cast the school reform movement, which has become virtually synonymous with Rhee’s name, as politically conservative and corporate-funded. [emphasis mine]There is simply no way anyone in the Democratic Party can seriously consider Michelle Rhee an ally anymore. She gives the vast majority of her masters' money away to Republicans - including Tea Baggers - spreads money to Republicans in swing states, and pals around with Republican governors like Chris Christie and Rick Scott.
If that isn't enough, she stepped on eggshells after the Newtown tragedy in a way that would have made the NRA proud; she only came around after it was apparent her tone-deaf response was not playing well with both progressives and moderates:
Rhee's flip-flopping on Michigan's right-to-work (for-less) laws similarly left a bad taste in many lefties' mouths. She's tried to play both sides, but she simply can't any more.
The evidence is in, and it's overwhelming: Michele Rhee is an ally of Republicans and an enemy of progressives and Democrats. She can pretend otherwise, but her record is clear and extensive.
So now Sevugan and others are going to try to come back into the Democratic fold. It will be easier for Sevugan to do so if he can maintain the illusion that Rhee is bipartisan. Perhaps he can con a few Democrats into believing it; the moderate wing of the party, including the president, will believe just about anything these days when it comes to education, so it's certainly possible.
I do find it curious that Sevugan made this decision just before a new Frontline special on Rhee is scheduled to air this week - a show that examines her record in Washington D.C., including the cheating scandal that has left a big, black cloud over her entire career (perhaps they'll get around to talking about her other serial exaggerations in the report).
Maybe Sevugan senses that Rhee is becoming damaged goods. Maybe he's come to the conclusion that the more the public sees of Michelle Rhee, the less likable she is. Maybe he thinks people are getting sick of her continuous schtick of bad-mouthing our nation's students. Maybe he wonders if the money will continue to pour in from the Billionaire Boys Club, when the best StudentsFirst can do to generate real grassroots support is to fertilize some AstroTurf with gift cards.
Maybe Sevugan, even as he keeps his options open, got out while the getting was good. Smart Democrats would be well advised to follow suit, because it's no longer possible for StudentsFirst or Rhee to pretend they are anything but right-wing partisan hacks. And we all know how much people love Republicans these days...
What's not to love?
UPDATE: Some commenters at Diane Ravitch's have made the case that StudentsFirst is bipartisan, because so many Democrats share their ideas about education "reform." Well, it may be that (unfortunately) "reform" is bipartisan, but StudentsFirst is not. Again:
But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents.You can't give so much money to Republicans and claim you are a bipartisan group. SF is a Republican money funnel; Rhee can no longer pretend otherwise.