Opinion Columns & Blogs

ERICKSON: Doing the right thing

According to the 2014 exit polling, polling widely considered far more accurate and precise than public opinion polling prior to an election, Republicans picked up 10 percent of the black vote and over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in last week’s election.

The 10 percent number may be very low, but it is actually an improvement for Republicans. Behind the scenes, pollsters from both parties doing the accurate pre-election internal polling for campaigns tell me they all noticed something. Support for a Democratic candidate fell among black mothers when those candidates started attacking Republican school choice and charter school proposals.

In fact, here in Georgia, both the election data and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests Jason Carter’s campaign hurt itself by dismissing charter schools. Black mothers in the metro-Atlanta area cast the deciding vote for the constitutional amendment in support of charter schools. They defied their pastors, the NAACP and leaders in their communities to stand with Gov. Nathan Deal two years ago on that issue.

Private Florida polling showed the same with Charlie Crist. When he began making overtures to Florida’s teacher associations in part by attacking former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education reforms, his support among black women faded.

It is important to understand the next part of this. In many cases those black women did not go vote for the Republicans. Instead, they just stayed home. They did not want to vote Republican, but they did not want to vote for candidates who would undermine their children’s future. Many of them chose to sit it out.

Education reform is the right thing to do. Bibb County’s Romain Dallemand fiasco is a good example why. We may all be born equal, but as we make our way through life things become more and more unequal. Education becomes a key access point for improving life. Those who learn to read early and do math go much further in life.

Parents should have the ability to send their children to better schools and, when there are none, participate in the creation of charter schools. Competition in public education will help. Mothers intuitively understand this and want the best for their children. Republicans in Georgia should not make school reform a big issue to woo black voters. They should do it because it is the right thing to do.

Gov. Deal seems to be taking that to heart. He is pushing a new initiative to make it easier for the incarcerated to get their high school diplomas. All of the campaign rhetoric in 2014 overshadowed one fact about Deal. He has been a nationwide leader in prison reform. He views it not just as a moral issue, but as a fiscal one.

There are plenty of young men in jail, mostly from the black community, who need drug or alcohol rehabilitation, not prison. There are many who, once in prison, never gain the capacity to reintegrate into civil society due to a lack of education or other reasons. Gov. Deal, to his credit, has been talking about this issue even before he stepped into the Governor’s Mansion. Now he seems more fully committed to making prison reform his legacy issue.

Democrats and Republicans should be willing to work on prison reform together. School reform will be harder. Democrats have invested a lot in building support among public-sector teacher associations and unions. Improving education, however, should be the civil rights issue of our era. We can and should provide children the best education possible because it is the right thing to do.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.