Get Reed Hastings

Posted: Jan 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Here's the latest outrage that shows why California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is right to push for legislative redistricting to instill some healthy fear in arrogant Sacramento legislators.

 This sordid tale starts with Reed Hastings, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Netflix and was appointed to the California State Board of Education by Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger reappointed Hastings, a Democrat, because he has been a highly effective champion of needed school reforms, with a concentration on pushing strong reading skills.

 In fact, Hastings has been so effective that a rump of left-leaning Democrats have targeted him for elimination. On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee is slated to vote on his reappointment. Word is that the committee instead will can Hastings.

 Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata was rather open last week when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that Hastings was a good man and a solid appointee, but the Dems were going to tar and feather him anyway. "He's a man who has put his money with his principles," Perata said. "He's done education a great service in California. There just seems to be a confluence of factors that don't have anything to do with Reed Hastings or his qualifications that make his confirmation highly unlikely at this time."

 A confluence of factors? You'd think Perata was watching a downpour when, in fact, he heads the Rules Committee and is poised to not vote for Hastings -- thus denying him the three votes needed to bring Hastings' confirmation before the full Senate -- even though Perata knows that Hastings has been good for California schools.

 (The offices of Perata and fellow Democrats Debra Bowen (Redondo Beach) and Gil Cedillo (Los Angeles) would not comment Monday on Hastings.)

 Perata is supposed to be a leader, but if he votes no, he will be doing the dirty work of state Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk. Escutia opposes Hastings because he, like a majority of California voters, supports Proposition 227, the 1998 measure that replaced bilingual education with primary instruction in English. As Escutia sees it, Hastings has shortchanged students in bilingual programs. Hastings persuaded the Board of Education to withhold federal reading funds from classrooms that failed to teach in English two and one-half hours a day. As Hastings sees it, immigrant children lose when their bilingual classes are short on English instruction.

 No surprise, the bilingual-istas sued, and the Legislature passed a bill that overrode the Board of Education's decision; with the recall looming, Davis signed it. The Legislature succeeded in undermining voters, and still, that's not enough: Escutia wants to make Hastings pay.

 As Hastings told me Monday, "Ultimately, the bilingual lobby is trying to make an example out of me. If they're successful, then they'll have a near veto of appointees."

 If the rump rules, the Legislature will be able to block citizens who, like the majority of California voters, support English instruction.

 Republicans also may play a role in this shameful political thuggery. The pro-Proposition 13 Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association has targeted Hastings because he helped bankroll Proposition 39, the 2000 ballot measure that lowered the threshold to pass school bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent of the vote. Jon Coupal of Jarvis noted, "The guy, I guess, is very sincere about education reform, and he pushes English-only, but he jammed us on Prop. 39."

 It's not clear if the two Republicans on Rules -- Roy Ashburn and Jim Battin -- will toe the Jarvis line. Ashburn told me, "I never announce my vote before anything occurs. That's why we have hearings." Battin didn't call back.

 State schools chief Jack O'Connell believes that Democrats should support Hastings because of his overall record and his support of Prop. 39. "He was such a hero to school construction," O'Connell told me. "We would have never been successful or reduced the (bond) threshold without Reed Hastings."

 As for Republicans, well, they are hardly in a position to reject a board member for supporting Prop. 39 -- considering that voters approved it. Especially since they'll be the first ones to demand that the Dems respect the voters' will on Prop. 227.

 I opposed Prop. 39. The state was running a big surplus -- remember surpluses? -- and I didn't want to make it easier for local governments to tax homeowners. But it's important to look at a man's entire record, and Hastings' record is too impressive to ignore because of one philosophical departure. If the Rules Committee gives Hastings the boot, it will be a victory for those who put ideological purity over performance.

 Now you see what happens when lawmakers have no fear of voters. Every Assembly member and senator running won re-election in 2004. So, barely a year after the 2003 recall, lawmakers have decided they can do whatever they want. And they don't care about what voters want. They don't care about what's best for California kids. Like Perata, they see a man who has done good things for California, but they'll bury him anyway.