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OP-ED | The Downside of Being a Reformer

by | Mar 16, 2012 10:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

If he needed a reminder about the downside of being governor, Dannel P. Malloy received more than one this week as his agenda faced opposition from all sides.  The state’s powerful teachers’ unions turned the full force of their weight against education reform as evidenced by town hall meetings full of angry teachers. Meanwhile back at the Capitol, the effort to make the state’s liquor laws more sensible is being watered down into meaninglessness. At the same time, reformers finally rose to challenge the unions’ latest money grab. They highlight the difficulty of taking on entrenched power and a warning about the unchecked expansion of it in government.

Mr. Malloy is out on the campaign trail again to gin up support for his mostly laudable education reform initiatives. In town hall meeting after meeting this week, Connecticut’s 88th Governor faced withering criticism from teachers opposing his efforts to change the way teacher tenure is awarded and performance in the classroom is measured. The rhetoric from the teachers’ unions has flipped since January after they realized that Malloy might not trade reforms for dramatically more money. The resistance seems quite curious to the numerous private-sector employees for whom performance evaluations are the basis of pay raises, bonuses, promotions, or alternatively, being fired. The debate continues nonetheless.

Parochial interests are equally amassed at the Capitol against Malloy’s liquor law reform proposals. The horror that would befall Connecticut residents if they were allowed to buy beer from a convenience store, or perhaps even more terrifyingly, get it at a price determined by free enterprise rather than government diktat, is simply too much for some legislators and the lobbyists they coddle. Connecticut has more package stores per capita than any other state in the nation but buys alcohol at one of the lowest per capita rates. Put more simply, the current liquor laws have corroded the marketplace with wasteful inefficiency. But at least at the moment it seems, it will muddle along due to the unwillingness to change in the legislature.

Malloy may be challenging the entrenched interests in education and liquor, but he’s thrown his lot in with them on the unionization of the state’s home day care providers and personal care attendants. The day care providers were herded into line first with a quick, quiet signature drive and then an even quicker and quieter balloting process back in December. The spotlight is now on personal care attendants who’ve been the targets of labor organizers for the last two months. Based on the timeline followed by the day care providers, the vote for the PCAs can’t be far away. The legislature is belatedly trying to enshrine in law what the governor did by decree back in September but even this effort met with resistance at the public hearing this week.

All three issues highlight the difficulty in challenging entrenched power, regardless of whether you are an activist, a legislator, or even a governor. But amid a global economy evolving from an industrial-manufacturing to an information-technology basis, the benefits of change will be most enjoyed by those who embraced them first. With a long history of innovation and entrepreneurship, Connecticut has the opportunity to be faster, smarter, and more dynamic than our competitors around the world but we have to choose to do it. Improving educational outcomes, expanding free enterprise in the marketplace, and embracing change are crucial to our future success. It’s not easy being a reformer but it has to be done.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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(23) Archived Comments

posted by: brutus2011 | March 16, 2012  1:11pm


True education reform can only come when teachers are in charge of our school buildings.

Fiscal sanity will prevail and student outcomes will rise.

I realize that my statements are startling, but radical reform is preferable to this lukewarm law. (S.B. 24)

posted by: AMM | March 17, 2012  9:25am

Sigh.  Another education piece by someone not in the field of education.  That’s three in two days, NewsJunkie Staff.

Anyway, the governor did some major damage with his anti-teacher reforms.  Most teachers under the age of 50 understand the union could be loosened a little and were more than willing to go along with opting out of the teacher retirement fund and decreasing time taken to get rid of a weak teacher.  However this bill with its misrepresentation of tenure and giving sole power to superintendents has only reminded teachers or made them very aware of why the unions were ever needed.  Congratulations to Gov. Malloy for turning back the clock on that one.

posted by: Zachary Smith | March 17, 2012  10:58am

Malloy is all about grabbing power, anyway he can get it, by hook or crook.  He’s a consummate politician and why would anyone (who voted for him) expect otherwise.  His “reforms” are all about state getting more control.  His agenda is BIG government and BIG taxes.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the taxpayers in Stamford if he ever lowered taxes in his 8 years there?

posted by: lkulmann | March 17, 2012  11:10am

@brutus…CT could never tolerate radical change. Lukewarm may be a good starting point. I’m thrilled that this conversation is actually happening. Teachers are the backbone of education. Somehow that got lost.

posted by: SocialButterfly | March 17, 2012  11:52am

“Gov. Malloy’s misdirection
drives people to drink.”

posted by: JMC | March 17, 2012  2:59pm

Check out the Gov’s latest power grab at jonathanpelto.com - Hizzoner will now be able to mint uncertified crony school superintendents!

posted by: ... | March 17, 2012  4:36pm


Totally agree with you Heath on this article.

Despite the partisan backlash that has occurred over education reform, liquor reform, and a host of other actions taken, Malloy is the first 21st Century Governor to take any serious action to CTs strongest issues.

But who knows, maybe this was just a bad first decade for education reformers who are disinterested in SB 24. Maybe ‘next time’, they’ll hop on board. Or ‘next time’ will never seriously come, and continue to be the can kicked down the road.

posted by: Zachary Smith | March 17, 2012  5:42pm

Don’t be fooled.  The consummate politician that he is, Malloy is using issues like reform, tenure and teacher evaluation as a distraction issue while the state slowly grabs control of the way schools are funded. 

Did you read the bill?  Don’t believe me?  Then what’s the “cost sharing” element of the bill and the “cost sharing task force” all about??? 
The loser in all this is the parents who will lose local control of their schools to the state.
If you love the DMV, you will love our new state run schools.

posted by: SocialButterfly | March 18, 2012  8:43pm

Combine our Governor and our General Assembly—and we fail to have any leadership to reform.  We have problems, and there is NO ONE TO TO TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS, even though it’s a necessary evil.  You wrote a good article, Heath, but as Terry recognized—very few in our legislature are pro-consumer, and our Govenor has not demonstrated a pro-consumer image “so far.”  We appear to be on a rudderless ship, as a result of being CARELESS WITH OUR VOTES. and are now clearly paying the price for it.  We have no one to turn to in Connecticut government.

Vote for Tom Foley next time, as it appears he will take another shot against our master politician—for the governor’s chair.  We all have to suffer under Malloy, in the meantime.

posted by: SocialButterfly | March 19, 2012  10:04am

AMM:  What qualifies you to be such a “supreme-critic” of non-professionals?

posted by: brutus2011 | March 19, 2012  11:21am


At the risk of sounding pedantic, I have to say that if you have never been an educator in a CT urban public school then there is a high probability that your views are inaccurate on our state’s latest incarnation of ed reform.
I have been a business owner and a teacher.
As a business owner, I found that the most exacting performance evaluation is whether or not you keep your customers and you have a profit at the end of the year.
As a teacher, I have received 4 exemplary performance evaluations. But what I have found is that what is done by education managers, or administrators, with teacher evals is entirely dependent upon the relationship a particular teacher has with his or her higher ups.
In other words, in running a business the evaluation is truly dependent upon performance—but in public school teaching, the evaluation is really dependent upon your organizational political standing. Or, a great teacher can be destroyed by a crony administrator looking to cover their rear-ends and a mediocre teacher can be protected because his/her superiors likes them.
I have seen it happen all to often.
This is what is so hard to get your head around—how such a potentially egalitarian pursuit of learning and erudition can be populated by those who are the very definition of the “Peter Principle.”
So, those of you who have never experienced the dysfunction of our urban public schools, now you have a glimpse.

posted by: ... | March 19, 2012  12:33pm


AMM: I believe this is a 3-issue Op-Ed that is revolved around the central theme of the job of Governor. But on the topic of education, if every person in education was (in your mind) the only skilled mind on education policy, could you answer to why multiple teachers are dismissed annually because of their poor quality? I’d appreciate you entertaining that question to me. Or should parents not have an opinion on education?

posted by: Mo Government | March 19, 2012  3:47pm

@Terry D. Cowgill Says;
“Imagine that, people writing about education who don’t work in education. What an atrocity. Next thing you know, we’ll have people writing about business who aren’t in the business community!”

Are you kidding me?  Are you that arrogant? You have to be in education to have an opinion on it?  That’s news to me!

Is it ok to be a parent with a child in CT schools or a taxpayer in CT and have an opinion on Senate Bill 24 because that’s who Malloy’s Senate bill 24 hurts the most.

In fact, this bill is NOT about education at all, it’s about grabbing the funding mechanism away from the rural/suburban districts so the state can control and dole out the funds.  This is a political power grab pure and simple and all the talk about “reform” and “teacher tenure and evauation” is a distraction.  Malloy’s a professional politician and he’s got everyone distracted while he tries to grab local control of public schools away from the towns and parents.

posted by: SocialButterfly | March 19, 2012  4:45pm

Terry:  You show that you know Gov. Malloy for the politician he is, “acting as our governor.”

The saying of “the world is a stage, and we are actor’s in it,” applies to Malloy “as the ringleader.”

posted by: ... | March 19, 2012  7:14pm


Mo Government, you might want to look up the term ‘sarcasm’. Or listen to it, because the quote you completely took out of context was just that. But just so you know, he was replying sarcastically to AMM, who said:

“Sigh.  Another education piece by someone not in the field of education. That’s three in two days, NewsJunkie Staff.”

posted by: AMM | March 19, 2012  10:51pm

Yes Steven, it is a three issue topic.  I just had read three straight columns supporting this bill by non-educators (of which I am too) and it was getting a little frustrating.  While anyone can write about education, I should have been clearer that the people writing the bills should have some experience in education - and yes, Terry when bills regarding businesses are presented, I’d prefer input from people actually running businesses.

Regarding teachers - many are dismissed because they aren’t cut out for the job.  These are the teachers who never make it to tenure.  You’re question is a little silly because you’re generalizing all teachers. Just because some teachers can’t make it, no one else in education has the knowledge to put together a sensible education package????

And yes, I think parents have a say.  I KNOW that parents are what make up a good school.  But this bill takes any say away from parents.  It is a power grab by the commissioner and unfortunately, some are misleading parents into thinking they are going to have a “choice” when they’re not.

posted by: ... | March 20, 2012  12:11am


AMM, you’d possibly be surprised to know that when bills and issues are reviewed by OPM and the Govs. Office, they often hold meetings with people who have experience in that field, including educators/former educators. These ideas just don’t come out of single-room powwows.

Your statement generalizes the entire concept of the bill as being constructed by non-teachers/education experts, as though it will never discussed and reformed in the legislature by the results of testimony from education experts, and that none of our current Reps/Sens didn’t serve on a Board of Education or have been in touch with educators to gain insight.

That was why I found your statement silly, and I’m sure Terry would partially agree. Also, I mean dismissals for tenured teachers as well. Like this bill entails, tenured teachers go through a lengthy process of being taken out of a school system, and the fact you assumed I was going after non-tenured teachers was a bit foolish of you.

posted by: AMM | March 20, 2012  10:05am

Steven, ConnCan has the ear of many legislators - their lobbying efforts combined with the commissioner’s ties to AF is quite scary and you are showing a frightening amount of faith in lobbyists doing the right thing.

As for tenured teachers, I did state the time to get rid of them should be shortened.  I also know that lousy teachers can be passed along because of administrators who don’t feel like making the proper documentation so they whine that it’s too hard for them to do their job so we need to change tenure laws.

posted by: AMM | March 20, 2012  10:09am

Also wanted to add Steven, that while you champion changing tenure - you are ignoring the bill’s threat to small school systems (that work) and the section allowing superintendents to take a job without any certification and dip into the teacher’s retirement fund he never contributed to.

posted by: Mo Government | March 20, 2012  7:09pm

@Steven Jones | March 19, 2012 7:14pm
“Mo Government, you might want to look up the term ‘sarcasm’. Or listen to it, because the quote you completely took out of context was just that. But just so you know, he was replying sarcastically to AMM, who said:
“Sigh.  Another education piece by someone not in the field of education. That’s three in two days, NewsJunkie Staff.””

Steven, YOU miss the point!  It doesn’t matter whether you have a degree in rocket science, education, or you dropped out of 3rd grade, to see that Malloy’s agenda has nothing to do with the kids, teachers or education is OBVIOUS to anyone who is not naive or have the a BIG government agenda. 

CTSB24 is simply transferring the control of our local schools, and more importantly their funding to the state.

ANY talk about teachers and students is merely misdirection by Malloy.

If you love the DMV, then you’ll love Malloy’s state run schools.

posted by: ... | March 20, 2012  9:08pm


AMM: Just so you know, I follow Jon Pelto’s blog ‘Wait, What?’ pretty closely, so I have a grasp of the concerns being raised. And I have no blind faith in lobbyists. I never even used the term lobbyist. Parents, concerned educators, members of the education profession, and all walks of life have given their time to speak to our legislators, both in the LOB and outside of it. So you should try not to put words in people’s mouths, or jump to conclusions about what my opinion is.

But just so you know the CEA is just as guilty as studentsfirst in improperly broad brushing the bill. And trust me, I dealt with the Stephan Pryor issue enough to not need another lesson on how its ‘scary’. But back to the major special interests (since you seem interested). Neither has promoted effective commercials that cite their concerns or approvals of the bill to a specific page, or pages. Just broad-brush ‘this is good’ vs. ‘this is bad’ commercial and lobbying. Pelto is probably the only one closest to helping me understand the oppositions side, so perhaps you should check him out.

posted by: Mo Government | March 22, 2012  6:37pm


“Also wanted to add Steven, that while you champion changing tenure - you are ignoring the bill’s threat to small school systems (that work) and the section allowing superintendents to take a job without any certification and dip into the teacher’s retirement fund he never contributed to.”

You are right, but these people, those that worship at the alter of BIG GOVERNMENT don’t care about you or your small schools.  These leechers want to run everything and tax everything and will not stop until they have drained the last drop of blood out of the last person left standing.

It’s not in their agenda to enfranchise you or your petty concerns, they know better than you, and you are just to stoopid to realize this, so they have every right to jam it down your throat. 

They feel sorry for you…

posted by: ... | March 23, 2012  8:54am


I’d feel bad Mo Government if anyone literally put all their faith and worship into government. It certainly isn’t something I do, which is why our government is comprised of more than people who have spent most of their careers working for the government.

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