Charter Advocates Gain Mayoral Pledge

Melissa Bailey PhotoCharter school advocates inserted themselves into the mayor’s race, convincing both candidates to sign a pledge to open new schools of choice.

The candidates, Democrat Toni Harp and independent Justin Elicker, signed the pledge in separate visits this week and last to Elm City College Prep, an Achievement First charter middle school on Dixwell Avenue.

The visits represented an effort by charter school advocates to put their issues on the radar of whoever becomes the next mayor in Tuesday’s election.

In a visit to the school Wednesday, Harp pledged to “support the growth of high quality seats for New Haven’s children through the opening of 3 new schools annually, including high-performing charter schools.”

Elicker also signed the pledge, but crossed out the number “3.”

Both candidates were invited to the school by Families For Excellent Schools, a New York-based group that Achievement First charter network has hired to organize parents at its charter schools in Connecticut and New York. In recent years, parents in the group have lobbied Hartford for resources and legal changes to help charter schools grow.

In the weeks leading up to the election, they invited both Elicker and Harp to Elm City College Prep to discuss their education platforms.

Elicker showed up last Wednesday. He spent about 45 minutes talking to parents and then toured the school, according to those present.

High Demand

Before Elicker left, parents asked him to sign a pledge they had written, published on a professional-looking flyer produced by Families For Excellent Schools.

It contained two demands.

The first demand—“support the growth of high quality seats for New Haven’s children through the opening of 3 new schools annually, including high-performing charter schools”—stemmed from the results of an annual school lottery, according to Amistad Middle School parent leader Khadijah Muhammad.

Charter schools are public schools that get autonomy to operate outside a traditional school district under their own charters in exchange for extra scrutiny from the state. To get into Achievement First’s charter schools, families must apply to the lottery for city magnet schools.

Demand for schools of choice such as charters is high, Muhammad noted. 

In New Haven’s 2012 school admissions lottery, a whopping 9,333 local and suburban students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 magnet and charter schools covering grades pre-K to 12. The lottery includes five charter schools.

The results mean too many parents are losing out, Muhammad said. She called for New Haven to create more excellent schools.

That doesn’t necessarily mean more charters, she said: “This is not for everybody,” she said of the Achievement First network, where she has happily sent four kids.

Parents called for creating more “new schools,” which she said includes overhauling a failing school as a “turnaround” with new leadership.

Elicker agreed to the spirit of the demand.

“Charters play a role in increasing innovation in schools,” he said. By charters, he said, he means not just Achievement First schools but Common Ground and the upcoming Elm City Montessori School. 

“The current school change model recognizes that one size does not fit all,” he said. He said there’s room for charters in New Haven, as well as turnaround schools, where existing schools are overhauled with new management.

“The turnaround school model is a model I support,” he said.

Elicker signed the pledge to create new schools—but didn’t want to be held to creating three per year.

“I don’t like to promise things that I’m not 100 percent sure I can deliver on. So committing myself to a minimum of three schools seems premature,” he explained in an interview Wednesday.

Elicker reiterated his support for turnarounds in a video-response to a question pitched by Varick Memorial AME Zion Church Pastor Eldren Morrison through ConnCAN’s website Wednesday. Click on the play arrow to watch.

After-School Push

The pledge’s second demand: For the mayor to “commit to unifying New Haven’s children by opening enrollment of enrichment programs to all public school students, traditional and charter alike.”

This is a reference to after-school programs—such as a language program offered by Yale—that accept kids from New Haven’s traditional school district, but not kids from charter schools, according to Muhammad.

She said charter school kids should get equal access to the programs: “We’re public schools, too,” she said.

Elicker agreed with the second demand. Youth programming should be open to all New Haveners, regardless of whether they attend traditional public schools or charter schools, he argued.

“If you have only a certain group of kids going to youth programs, and others are cut out of it, it’s not as much of an inclusive atmosphere,” he said.

An Undecided Voter Takes Stock

One week after they met Elicker, six parents showed up Wednesday to meet Harp for a 10 a.m. appointment at Elm City College Prep Middle School. Parents were joined by Reshma Singh, vice president of external relations for Achievement First, and four organizers from Families For Excellent Schools, who brought donuts and coffee.

Muhammad took a break from her job cooking curry chicken and steamed broccoli as the cafeteria manager at Amistad Middle to attend the meeting. Other moms showed up after driving bus routes and caring for people with disabilities. They all live in New Haven. (Achievement First’s elementary and middle schools serve only city kids.)

They waited for nearly an hour before Harp showed up.

As she waited, NeKengie Brookshire (at right in photo with Singh) said she was still undecided about whom to support.

“Basically, it’s going to depend on this meeting,” she said. She said she had initially thought she would support Harp, but took an interest in Elicker.

“He’s the one who’s really been sticking to his guns and showing up,” she said.

Harp’s lateness wasn’t helping.

“Now it’s 10:25. Now, here we are, playing the waiting game,” Brookshire said.

She said she was eager to hear whether Harp would be “confident” in her support of charter parents’ demands.

Muhammad, an Achievement First parent activist since 2000, said Harp has helped charters a lot over the years. Harp was instrumental in passing legislation to grant Elm City College Prep its charter and help it open in 2004, Muhammad said. The state funds charters on a per-pupil basis, with enrollment capped for each school. Harp later helped the school expand the number of students who go there, Muhammad said.

Harp touted that history when she arrived at 10:55 a.m. (She later explained her 55-minute delay: She had spent the morning meeting with her campaign finance team, and then with an editorial board at Yale.)

She said her support for charters is based in her family history. Harp told of her dad, a railroad porter, who moved to Salt Lake City to study engineering at the University of Utah. Her mother-in-law grew up poor in New Orleans, worked for the post-office at night and went to school by day, graduated from college, then became a school principal and put her own six kids—including Harp’s late husband, Wendell—through college.

The Harp family legacy, she said, “is the belief in education” to lift people out of poverty.

“That’s why I’ve always supported charter schools,” Harp said.

She said Dacia Toll and Stefan Pryor, who founded Amistad Academy, Achievement First’s first school, defied the popularly held notion that poor and black kids could not be educated.

“I really like ‘No excuses,’” she said, pointing to a sign over the blackboard. She said charter schools have succeeded in “putting pressure on public education to no longer give those excuses” that poor and minority kids can’t learn.

“The pressure that you’re putting on the system is needed,” she said.

After hearing her general support, parents pressed Harp on a handful of demands.

“How would you deal with the leadership of our failing schools” in the public school system? Muhammad asked.

Harp replied that she would take a look at the schools—Domus Academy and Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy—that have been handed over to outside management.

“If they’re not doing well,” she said, New Haven should “rethink outside management” of those schools.

And “if it looks like there’s a school that’s been on the failing list for a long time”—such as Hartford’s Thurman Milner School—“we’ve got to think about turning it over” to a charter management organization, as Hartford did.

Lincoln-Bassett, 6 to 6

Harp took the chance to float a new idea about neighborhood schools in New Haven.

“There are some public schools in New Haven that do a really great job,” such as Worthington Hooker School in East Rock and Davis Street School in Westville, she said. But schools need to do more, she said.

She called for vastly expanding the hours at Lincoln-Bassett School in Newhallville.

“I would like to make it a 6 to 6 school, immediately,” she said. That means 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Harp also said she receives too many calls from parents who can’t get into the magnet schools near their houses. She called for adding more neighborhood preference at magnet schools.

In a separate interview, Elicker also said he has heard from a lot of parents who are frustrated they can’t get into their neighborhood schools. “We need to make sure we have the right balance of allowing parents to opt into their neighborhood school, and allowing parents not to opt in if they choose,” he said.

He also called for making it easier for neighboring families to get into magnet and charter schools. (New Haven is exploring adding neighborhood preference as part of a school redistricting panel.)

Muhammad asked Harp about opening up after-school programs to charter schools. She cited a language program at Yale that she said is open only to New Haven Public School kids, not to charter school students.

“That’s something we’d be happy to work with you on,” by sitting down with the operator of the program, Harp said.

The Pledge

Parents asked Harp if she would sign their pledge, starting with the part about opening three new schools per year, including charters.

Parent activist Santia Bennett told her that Elicker had already done so, last week.

“I’ll sign whatever it is that he signed,” Harp replied.

“I know we’re doing two” new charters, she said.Elm City Montessori has won its charter. And Pastor Morrison plans to resubmit a plan for the Booker T. Washington Academy to open next fall.

Harp said if turnaround schools are included in the count, she would definitely sign the pledge: “I think we should turn around more than three.”

She took out a pen and signed her name.

Harp answered a final question from Bennett: Would she include parents in the decision of whom to appoint to the school board?

Harp said she supports an effort to revise the city charter so that parents—and all New Haveners—could elect two members of the school board. But she said she alone would decide on her appointees to the board.

“I’d receive names from people,” Harp said. But “I don’t think this should be a collaborative decision.”

Harp then followed 12-year-old Zack Murphy on a quick tour of the school. Harp and Zack chatted softly as they walked.

“I played the violin when I was in elementary school,” she told him during a visit to an empty music classroom. (She later switched to piano.)

After Harp left, Bennett pronounced herself still undecided as to whom she will vote for, because of how Harp answered her final question.

Brookshire said she was leaning towards Harp. Brookshire had wondered if Harp remained as strong an advocate for charters as she had been in the past.

“I feel like she’s still supportive of the charter schools,” she concluded. 

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posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on October 31, 2013  8:41am

Courts have ruled that charter schools are NOT public schools.

Public dollars must not be funneled to these private corporations.

posted by: robn on October 31, 2013  8:54am

New Haven is up to its eyeballs in unsustainable debt and Toni Harp wants to build 3 more schools per year? Seriously? Sounds like the one hour train to NYC; only possible if you spend money you don’t have.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on October 31, 2013  9:00am

This is extremely disappointing.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee
Immanuel Baptist Church

posted by: HewNaven on October 31, 2013  9:01am

Forget debates, I want handwriting samples! Elicker appears relaxed, confident, intelligent and coherent. What does Toni Harp’s handwriting look like?

But seriously, one-size does not fit all. And this is one of the funniest things I’ve read all year:

Parents asked Harp if she would sign their pledge, starting with the part about opening three new schools per year, including charters.

Parent activist Santia Bennett told her that Elicker had already done so, last week.

“I’ll sign whatever it is that he signed,” Harp replied.

posted by: HewNaven on October 31, 2013  9:07am

Harp touted that history when she arrived at 10:55 a.m. (She later explained her 55-minute delay: She had spent the morning meeting with her campaign finance team, and then with an editorial board at Yale.)

The appointment with Elm City Prep was at 10AM. Who’s more important than New Haven school children? Why, her campaign finance team and Yale, of course!

Typical of Harp, she’s aloof, disinterested, distracted by money, and often late. Toni Harp for Mayor: She’ll show up eventually.

posted by: TheMadcap on October 31, 2013  9:24am

Ugh, I wish neither of them had agreed, but opposing it isn’t a politically savvy move. Charter schools are a sexy sell, but it’s a scam.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 31, 2013  9:52am

“Sign Whatever…” Notes:

1. In front of charter advocates: Yes and sign whatever.

2. In front of police union: Yes to status quo pensions and benefits.

3. In front of women firefighters: I’ll hire more.

4. In front of arts advocates: I’ll stabilize funding.

5. In front of Q House devotees: I’ll build it.

6. In front of Construction Trades: I’ll build more

7. In front of those who want more youth programs: We’ll do more

8. In front of those will budget concerns and long term sustainability:

posted by: Scot on October 31, 2013  10:46am

Elicker’s response was to think carefully of what was being asked. He knew committing to a certain number without all the facts is irresponsible. So he indicated his support but without making premature promises.  That seems like a good leader to me.

“I’ll sign whatever it is that he signed”. I feel like Harp is just willing to say whatever people want to hear since there’s an election coming up.  I question if she received many of her endorsements in this same manner. Just promise people whatever they want now and worry about how to pay for it, or even if it makes sense, later. 

For example, she received many of her union endorsements before she had even looked at the city’s budget. In this article from Aug 14:
“I haven’t been able to get my hands on the budget in an in-depth way,” she said when asked for specifics.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2013  10:50am

Charter schools are public schools that get autonomy to operate outside a traditional school district under their own charters in exchange for extra scrutiny from the state. To get into Achievement First’s charter schools, families must apply to the lottery for city magnet schools.

Not so.They are publicly financed schools that are run by private usually nonprofit organizations. Sometimes they are independent,and sometimes they are part of larger charter school organizations or chains.The primary argument that charter schools are public schools is that they are paid for out of government funds. While they do get most of their budgets from tax dollars, that is not enough to render them public schools.There are many other organizations that pay for operations with public funds but are still private organizations. Defense contractors receive enormous sums of money from the government to provide design and manufacturing of weapons systems,but they remain private corporations. Blackwater provided labor, training and services to the Department of Defense and the State Department, but it remained a private organization.If a construction firm is hired by a school district to build a school, it remains a private firm. If a new firm is formed to bid for a school construction job, and wins the project, it still remains a private firm.Even if that firm does such a good job that it wins future bids and does all the district’s construction work, it remains a private firm.Charter school employees do not work for the government; they are not public employees. While the government has contracted with charter schools to provide a service, they do not act as the government when the provide it. Their operations are not subject to democratic or public oversight; rather their contracts (i.e. their charters) come up for review for possible extension periodically.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2013  11:01am

Ten Reasons Charter Schools Harm Children.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on October 31, 2013  11:12am

I will sign whatever Justin Elicker signed…..cough…..time for your paid out of state spokesman!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2013  11:26am

The Harp family legacy, she said, “is the belief in education” to lift people out of poverty.“That’s why I’ve always supported charter schools,Harp said.She said Dacia Toll and Stefan Pryor, who founded Amistad Academy, Achievement First’s first school, defied the popularly held notion that poor and black kids could not be educated.“I really like ‘No excuses,’” she said, pointing to a sign over the blackboard. She said charter schools have succeeded in “putting pressure on public education to no longer give those excuses” that poor and minority kids can’t learn.After hearing her general support, parents pressed Harp on a handful of demands.
So will Harp Elicker Parents sign The Charter Schools Act
Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2013  11:32am

Like I said will Harp Elicker and Parents Sign The Charter School Act.

1. STUDENT RIGHTS – Charter schools MUST be required to retain Special Ed and ELL students. No longer push out, counsel out or expel them out of the school.
2. PARENT RIGHTS – Every charter school board MUST have a parent board member who is the President of the school’s independent parent association.
3. BILL OF RIGHTS – There MUST be a universal Parents Bill of Rights and Students Bill of Rights for charter schools.
4. INDEPENDENT PARENTS ASSOCIATION – Every charter school MUST be required to have an independent parents association.
5. CO-LOCATIONS – The state MUST develop a better process in determining locations.

6. ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY – Charter school board members and employees MUST be held to rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions as all other organizations receiving public money. There MUST be more oversight of Founding Boards. Board members MUST NOT be allowed to be permanent trustees. All employees (principals, directors, staff) MUST not be allowed to serve on the board. All schools must be audited by the State Comptroller.
Part one.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2013  11:33am

Part Two Charter School Act.

7. CHARTER CONTRACT & BY-LAWS – Every charter school MUST be required to post their charter and by-laws online to increase accountability and transparency in charter schools and their governing boards. Every board meeting MUST be held at the school.
8. STATE RECEIVERSHIP – The state MUST have the authority to take over a charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees.
9. MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS – For Profit Management organizations MUST NOT be allowed to manage charters. Public money should be spent on public students.
10. COMPLAINT & GRIEVANCE PROCESS – The state MUST develop a formal complaint and grievance process that includes tracking and resolving issues within 30 days.
11. TEACHER RIGHTS & PROTECTIONS – Teachers in charter schools MUST be provided with whistleblower and job protections when exposing corruption, financial mismanagement and corporate chicanery in charters. No teacher should be fired for standing up for their students. E.g. East New York Prep Charter School.
12. CHARTER AUTHORIZATION – Authorization MUST only be granted by the Board of Regents.

posted by: Brutus2011 on October 31, 2013  2:54pm

I support choice for parents who want to opt out of NHPS—but choice of community-sponsored schools. We are fortunate to have one here in New Haven—Common Ground High School founded by the New Haven Ecology Project in 1997. 

I DO NOT support Achievement First, or Jumoke,  or any other corporate privatization model for our kids.

I do not believe that the organizers of the privatization of public education movement here and elsewhere give a hoot about the education of our kids except as to how they can profit now or in the long term through gentrification.

However, Kadijah Muhammed asked an important question of Senator Harp:“How would you deal with the leadership of our failing schools in the public school system?”

I thought Sen. Harp missed the point entirely when she answered referencing Domus and Renaissance management companies.

Muhammed, at least to my mind, was asking about the accountability of those who manage New Haven Public Schools—the building administrators all the way up to downtown central office and the BOE and the mayor.

And therein lies the problem: no one wants to hold those whose job it is to make and implement policy for our public schools accountable for a job NOT well done.

Astonishing at how these folks get away with this mediocrity year after year and decade after decade.

Unfortunately, I believe the privatizers are going to be worse if we let them fool us with their promises of educational largess for our kids.

There is a solution.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on October 31, 2013  3:26pm

hmm I to am no fan of this plan. I agree with Brutus places like common ground are not the same as privatizing. Lets remember what is happening with our prison systems now that they are privatizing. And if this is something that we can not stop (wish we could) I think Threefifths list is one to be taken seriously.

add note…I will sign what ever he signed…WOW! big Doink!

posted by: NewHavenPublic on October 31, 2013  9:09pm

Part 1 @Brutus:
In answer to Muhammed, Supt. Harries would tell you there IS a system to identify underperforming administrators called PVAL.  This is supposed to be just like the TEVAL currently being used to demean and demoralize teachers.  Sprinkling fear and insecurity around does not foster productive school systems.

Harries will use the cover of “Talent Management” executives and “Human Capital Management Systems” to continue to cut at the classroom.  He will empower this new education executive class.  It’s a masterfully devious plan if your goal is to gut and weaken your urban public schools.  If he is given a 3 year contract this spring by our new mayor, we will witness a massive expansion of corporate profiteering off the New Haven Public Schools.

Part 2 (in response to the article)

Now mucking into New Haven we have the Walton Family Foundation (Heirs to the WalMart fortune) in the form of the “Familes for Excellent Schools”!

They are not here to “help” our children.  They are here to push their corporate agenda with Supt. Garth Harries.  Their goal is to defund our public schools and operate more private charter schools with public money.

WalMart does not foster the American Dream.  Over a million WalMart employees are paid as little as possible while WalMart heirs spend hundreds of millions of dollars actively destroying our public schools.

I could think of a million better uses for their vast fortune:  they have the power to directly lift their employees out of poverty.

“Research experts want to know what can be done about the values of poor segregated children; and this is a question that needs asking. But they do not ask what can be done about the values of the people who have segregated these communities. There is no academic study of the pathological detachment of the very rich…”

― Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools

posted by: Tom Burns on November 1, 2013  12:56am

There will be NO more charter schools in New Haven—until the one’s we have prove something—(with the same population that public schools have)—they can’t they won’t and so they will never be welcome here in New Haven—-NO MORE—I hope you hear me for I am the VP of the Local Teachers Union—our regular public school teachers are the real deal and we work wonders with ALL students—the charade, the façade of Charter schools is over—-not in New Haven—not ever—we employ real educators—not phonies or fly by night educators who seek to enrich themselves or pad their resumes—-so any politicians who cow-tow to these charlatans are not with us or the children and families of New Haven and WE will not participate—nor will we continue to be partners with anyone who espouses the joke called Charter Schools—we have enough already—so let me tell you NEW possible Mayors and Alderman—you need to get with the program called the New Haven Model which is lauded throughout the country for it has no peer—it is the real deal—and if you don’t and take the road to ruin as have many other Southern and Midwestern states have done then you are in for a battle—NO MORE CHARTERS are coming to New Haven—and that’s my promise as an educator—for I will not let self-serving individuals dictate what happens to our kids(for the worse)—-don’t even think about it—Tom

posted by: Nashstreeter on November 1, 2013  12:58am

I agree with Rev Ross-Lee. This is incredibly disappointing. Neither candidate has bothered to give the charter schools issue much thought, and they are both responding to the lobbying efforts of the charter machine.

I can’t believe that they (and the current mayor and school board) are not totally humiliated to admit that they are powerless to figure out how to create a decent public school system that serves all kinds of students – that they have to call in some kind of private company to do it for them. Why would anyone vote for someone who has thrown in the towel right at the outset?

We deserve a mayor and a superintendent who have a commitment to public education as a public right and a civic responsibility, not as a consumer choice. Whether you have school-age children or not, an educated population benefits us all. That’s what we pay our taxes for.

Everybody knows that there are good schools and bad schools. But what if ALL the schools were good? Why can’t that be a public goal? True, it might require innovation, experimentation, re-thinking of the ways things have usually been done and recognition of what works and what doesn’t. But that kind of effort is as available to public institutions as private companies, who have no accountability to taxpayers or parents or teachers.

If you ask me, “no excuses” should apply to the “public servants” who are currently in charge of our public education system, and it should be the mantra of any mayoral candidate who claims to care about our kids and our city.

posted by: Tom Burns on November 1, 2013  1:02am

Thank you three fifths and Brutus—you get it—keep up the support—T

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 1, 2013  1:45am

This is a great step forward for Democracy!

Charter Schools teach to the same Bubble Test that Now appears at the Voting Booth.  Coincidence??

Now let’s look at the great maxim taught for taking the BubbleTest — Don’t leave any answers blank, make your best guess. 

That’s Great advice for uneducated voters.

In the absence of a bubble for ‘none of the above’, Marketing takes care of the rest….

The media frenzy over whether these new machines really count the vote was just the distraction.

The masses have been programmed.
Charter Schools are part of that indoctrination process.

Enjoy your cold slice of corporate pizza, New Haven…..
Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Little Caesars all use the same dough to achieve similar levels of stale mediocrity.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 1, 2013  9:36am

The Next Move will be like they are doing in New York.These Charter Schools will be moving into the public school buildings.

Invasion Of The Charter Schools.

Bill Saunders,Nashstreeter NewHavenPublic Rev Ross-Lee.You all are on point.In fact this will back up what you all are talking about.

The Faces of School Reform.

Charters Have Nothing to do With Community Control of Schools
Tue, 05/08/2012 - 21:47 — Glen Ford

And for you teachers running around with Harp and Elicker buttons.Take a number.This will be what is next for you.

The Corporate Dream: Teachers as Temps

posted by: William Kurtz on November 2, 2013  6:14pm

Justin Elicker shows up on time, spends 45 minutes with the parents, listens to what they have to say and offers a thoughtful response to their concerns (making neither an empty promise nor an artful dodge).

Senator Harp shows up nearly an hour late, finding her campaign finance team and a Yale ‘editorial board’ (whatever that means) more important than local parent and voters. She offers platitudes about the importance of education (perhaps she also believes that ‘children are our future’ and that we should ‘teach them well/and let them lead the way’?), reminisces about playing the violin and, when questioned directly, asserts that she would do exactly what Mr. Elicker has already done, giving no indication that she even knows to what she’s agreeing.

Over and over during this race, the senator has shown herself to be at best uninformed and at worst, dangerously uninterested in the actual mechanics of the mayor’s office. She surrounds herself with ethically suspicious and in some cases downright corrupt advisors. She all but explicitly promises that big-money, out of town donors can get ‘meetings’ with her and signals every day that the voices she’s most interested in listening to are the ones that speak over piles of campaign cash.

Disinterested voters often sigh that there’s ‘no difference’  between candidates; that all office-seekers are cut from the same cloth and the only difference between the puppets is where the strings lead. But that’s simply not true here and now. There’s a clear choice in this election, between a career politician deeply encrusted in the old ways of doing business—patronage, favors, pay-to-play—and a a relative newcomer to elective office who has a demonstrated record of involvement in his community and who has clearly-articulated ideas about how to bring government into the 21st century and make it more responsive to the needs of actual people, not just corporations, unions, and big-money interests.

Vote Elicker.