MS State Senate Rumble: Chris McDaniel, Conservatives Expose GOP Establishment’s Common Core Support

Chris McDaniel promises a victory against Sen. Thad Cochran to a late night audience Tuesday at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg, Miss.
AP Photo/George Clark

The Republican establishment in Mississippi must wish state Sen. Chris McDaniel was in Washington. Instead, he’s a conservative force in Jackson, and just helped lead the attack against some misleading legislation about Common Core.

The political establishment in Mississippi put forward a piece of legislation through former Senate Education Committee chairman state Sen. Videt Carmichael—a close ally of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s—that purported to kill Common Core in Mississippi.

“Basically, Common Core is gone if you pass this,” Carmichael said about his bill—according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger—while it was being considered in his old Education Committee, now chaired by state Sen. Gray Tollison.

But all the legislation really does, Mississippi Tea Party president Laura Van Overschelde explains, is create a task force that makes recommendations to the state Board of Education—recommendations that board can, and probably would, ignore.

While those recommendations are almost sure to contain a full—or at least partial—repeal of Common Core in Mississippi, it’s significant that they don’t mandate the state Board of Education to do anything. That same State Board of Education implemented Common Core—according to meeting minutes transcripts conservatives in the state frequently tout—not because it thought the standards were high quality, but because it wanted federal money from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

So few expect the Board of Education to implement recommendations from this new task force that would call for it to get rid of Common Core. So, state Sen. Angela Hill introduced an amendment to the Carmichael bill that would have required the state Board of Education to implement all the recommendations of the task force the Carmichael bill created. And because so many in the state’s GOP establishment—despite widespread conservative victories against the Common Core standards, as the state is now slowly but surely rolling them back—don’t want to fully get rid of Common Core, a heated battle on the state Senate floor overseen by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves followed when senators debated Hill’s amendment.

“They [the Common Core standards] were or were not tried and true, proven standards prior to their adoption?” state Sen. Michael Watson, a conservative, asked Tollison on the Senate floor.

“Well, they were—” Tollison started to answer.

“The question is yes or no. You’re a lawyer. Yes or no,” Watson cut him off, ensuring that he got a clear answer to his question.

“Um, I would say yes they were proven because they were built on other standards out there including international standards,” Tollison responded.

Watson followed up by disproving Tollison’s claim that the Common Core standards had international benchmarks tied in.

“I’m glad you say they were international because the Common Core state standards website, what they said was these were internationally benchmarked—originally,” Watson said.

“Right,” Tollison interjected.

“But they they came back and said, ‘you know what? That’s not true,’” Watson said. “They removed ‘internationally benchmarked’ from the website, because they’re not internationally benchmarked.”

Tollison gave up.

“Well, Sen. Watson, I don’t want to go back and forth about he-said-she-said,” Tollison replied.

But a moment later, Tollison—a former Democrat, who switched parties to join the Republicans when the GOP took over the statehouse a few years ago—again defended Common Core.

“But why did the state board adopt the Common Core state standards?” Watson asked him.

“Why did they? Well, I guess, to improve education in the state of Mississippi,” Tollison said.

At that point, Tollison claimed Hill’s amendment would revert the state of Mississippi to old failed educational standards. The old standards before Common Core, Tollison said, were “given a grade of D on English/Language Arts. Which they said, the grade of D is what you want to go back to.”

“None of us want to. Read the amendment,” Watson fired back.

“That’s what the amendment says,” Tollison doubled down on his claim.

“No, no it doesn’t,” Watson corrected him. “[It says] implement the commission’s recommendations.”

After some more back and forth, Watson moved on with his prosecutorial-like questioning of Tollison to hone in on the question about the federal funding from President Barack Obama’s Race to The Top initiative attached to Common Core adoption.

“But what my question was, and which you haven’t answered yet, is why did the state board adopt the Common Core state standards?” Watson asked.

Would you be shocked if I read the minutes in which they adopted them and it said ‘on finding of imminent peril to public welfare and loss to substantial federal funds from Race To The Top grant’? It doesn’t say these are great standards. It says we may lose federal money. Are those the same people you want to entrust to say, ‘hey we’re just going to give them some recommendations and maybe they’ll make them?’ Someone that adopted it on federal funds?

Tollison dodged Watson’s question again.

“Certainly, the State Board of Education—if they didn’t like them, they could get rid of them,” Tollison said. “Certainly you could lobby them—there are nine members over there, and there’s going to be two members coming before the Senate. If you don’t like them, you can vote against them. As a matter of fact, Gov. Bryant—you know Gov. Bryant. If you don’t like his appointments, you can get somebody else and change them. That may be a way to do it.”

Watson pressed further.

“But where you aware of the minutes where they adopted them because of a lack of federal funds?” Watson asked again.

Tollison, the chairman of the state Senate’s education committee, admitted he hasn’t even read the minutes—years later—of the state Board of Education’s meeting decision on why it adopted Common Core.

“I haven’t read the minutes,” Tollison said. “I certainly haven’t looked at it in the whole context. I certainly don’t dispute if that’s what it says. But I certainly haven’t looked at it in the whole context.”

A few moments later, Chris McDaniel came down to the floor to question Tollison.

“Lawyers fighting lawyers, right?” McDaniel started off.

“That’s right,” Tollison played along.

McDaniel then hinted at how Barbour—the former governor and former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman who’s been described by Politico as having “Godfather-like” control over Mississippi—along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, and others crafted Common Core’s framework.

“I do have an objection though,” McDaniel said. “Earlier there was an argument you made that I thought made a lot of sense. The distinction was whether you want to refer this to government bureaucrats—people like us—or to the professionals. I agree with you. It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the Common Core initiatives or standards were promulgated by a group of governors, weren’t they?”

“Well they didn’t develop them. I’ll make sure, but yes governors got together and state superintendents, essentially,” Tollison answered, still clearly unsure of where McDaniel was going.

McDaniel then tied in the federal funding that was hooked into Common Core through Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.

“Right, you got a group of politicians who got together and they’re pushing a new initiative—and they’re the same politicians connected to their friends in Washington, who then tied federal funds to the implementation,” McDaniel said.

Tollison figured it out at that point, and then fought for Barbour by arguing that he alone didn’t craft Common Core.

“No, there wasn’t an official tying of federal funds,” Tollison said.

There’s nothing in writing related to saying that. There’s nothing in the code of federal register or federal law doing that. So let me go back. Gov. Barbour did not write the standards. I think you would agree with that. But my point is all they said is ‘you educators go write the standards because we don’t have any idea how to do it.’ I want to make my point clear—they were the politicians, yes, they came up with the concept and then it was done by a group of professors. Hundreds of people were involved. They were knowledgable about what they were doing.

McDaniel kept rolling from there, playing along using Tollison’s own words against him:

That’s why I think it’s so fascinating—that the promulgating began by a group of politicians, it was then funded by a group of politicians, that our panel is being appointed by a group of politicians, and we try to say that this is not really a political decision. Here’s my question: If it really isn’t about politicians, and it really is about the children—and by the way, I have a child in second grade public education—then why not implement the standards of these professionals of this appointed blue ribbon panel? I like the idea. I just think we should implement their suggestions. That’s all.

Tollison was so frazzled by that point, he shifted into comparing the federal government pushing states into adopting Common Core to a college football coach getting pressured by the State Senate about which plays to run.

“I always use it like a football coach,” Tollison said.

Coach Hugh Freeze, when he is hired by Ole Miss, I want him to win football games. That’s the standard: Winning football games. How Coach Freeze wins the football games, if he runs a spread offense, or a wishbone or whatever, that would be like the curriculum. I don’t tell him how to coach football. I think the same here is that we want education to excel, as everybody in this capitol wants it to. But how we excel, we need to leave that to the educators. I don’t call up Coach Freeze and say, ‘Coach, the legislature just decided you need to run x option 34.’ I’ve never done that. I don’t hope anybody does. I think Freeze knows how to run a football game. And it’s the same thing, and I know I’m being—but the point of it is that we’re not in a position to say how you raise student achievement in Mississippi. I think you can use the third grade literacy promotion act as an example. We told—in an act—we said we want third graders to read by grade level. How you do that is up to the schools. In Jones County they may use different models than they do in LaFayette County. But ultimately the goal is set by the legislature to have students reading by grade level. Same thing with these English and math standards, those standards have been set. So I just wanted to make that point about the standards.

McDaniel twisted his football reference, and his use of the Wishbone Formation reference, right back on him.

“Just a couple more points. You used the football analogy. Remember the old wishbone offense?” McDaniel asked Tollison.

“I do. Emory Bellard,” Tollison responded.

“Absolutely. And if you try to run that today against modern defenses, it’s pretty ineffective isn’t it?” McDaniel asked in a follow-up.

“That’s right,” Tollison agreed.

McDaniel then used Tollison’s point about football to nail home how bad Common Core really is.

“Completely ineffective,” McDaniel said.

Well if a coach is just stubborn, let’s say Coach Right, and he is insistent on running the wishbone despite the fact that the great majority of the constituents of this state say otherwise, and then we create an advisory coaching panel that says we shouldn’t run the wishbone—the bottom line is he’s still going to run the wishbone. He’s still not going to listen to our concerns. He’s still going to ignore the people of this state. That’s my concern. How the board we’ve created that’s a blue ribbon panel, I say we just implement it. I know Nebraska won that, but that was years ago. I’m talking about Nebraska’s National Championship with a Wishbone. Bottom line is, I believe strongly in standards. I believe strongly in educational achievement. My father was a professor. That’s exactly why I think this amendment is worthwhile. It says we can implement those changes, as opposed to just recognize there’s no way they’re going to change without being forced to.

After McDaniel’s and Watson’s battle with Tollison, Hill herself came back to the Senate floor to make her last minute pitch for passage of her amendment. A Democratic State Senator, David Jordan, bombarded her questions—helping the Republican establishment members in the chamber.

“If you want to trust the experts, then vote for my amendment,” Hill argued. “If you want to trust somebody that puts out snake oil, then vote against my amendment.”

Her amendment failed to pass, then the final version of the bill passed moments later—all with Reeves presiding over the Senate. Thirteen of 31 Republicans voted for it, while 18 other Republicans joined all the Democrats in the state Senate to oppose it. The final bill passed moments later with only a few defections Senate-wide.

In an interview later, McDaniel told Breitbart News that the reasons for this showdown go far beyond Jackson.

The leadership, they’re trying to provide cover for people who are soft on the issue of Common Core. The people of our state have spoken and they want a full repeal. What they gave us is a bill today that purports to be something it is not. This bill does not repeal Common Core. It does nothing, in fact. It had no teeth in it. Angela’s amendment would have provided the teeth and effectively the end of Common Core. But because it wasn’t adopted, all we have now is a watered down bill that makes this advisory council that will simply recommend changes to the Board of Education that’s already told us that it has no intention of abandoning Common Core. So this is widespread deception is what is it is. We still have Common Core and nothing has been done to stop it.

Though their effort to get Hill’s amendment in the bill failed, they exposed the failures of the bill—and the nefarious actions of the politicians behind it. McDaniel is aiming to expose the political establishment of both parties as much as possible in not just Mississippi, but those up in Washington and in other statehouses across the country too.

“People have to be engaged and watch the system,” McDaniel said. “These games have been played for decades. It’s becoming more customary, I think, as we move into an era where people are demanding conservative government. They’re demanding conservatives fight.”

McDaniel said on this issue and many others, the reason why so many Republicans just go along with big government is because members of legislative bodies fear their party’s leadership. “It’s a combination of many factors, but members fear leadership,” McDaniel said. “That’s what it boils down to. But some of them, I’m confident, just simply do not understand the issue. It’s a complicated issue to a certain extent. But there’s a lot of members I’m confident want to said with us but can’t because of leadership.”

Every one of the members who voted on this matter in the state Senate—and all the statewide elected officials, including Reeves, Gov. Phil Bryant and more—are up for re-election this year. McDaniel has just launched a PAC that he says will get involved in local and statewide elections in the Magnolia State, and said voters can change these goings-on if they change who represents them.

“They have to be willing to do the research on their candidates, and they have to be willing to understand the issues and ask the tough questions,” McDaniel told Breitbart News. “It is up to the people of this country to hold politicians accountable. And for too long, they’ve not been held accountable. But once they start being held accountable the winds will shift. Once the winds shift, the politicians will follow the wind. And it’s not just on Common Core. It’s on any issue that expands the size and scope of government and restricts liberty.”

McDaniel said he gets the feeling that all across the country, “people are waking up.”

“If I could do one thing, if I could have one legacy here, people one day will get engaged and pay attention to their government again,” McDaniel said. “If they start doing that, holding politicians accountable, it gives people control over the apparatus and that’s what it’s all about.”

No wonder newly seated U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked so hard to defeat McDaniel during primary season last year. McConnell even hosted a fundraiser at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in Washington, D.C. last summer—a fundraiser that saw McConnell raise more than $800,000 in one night for Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) efforts to get Democrats to vote for him in the GOP primary runoff.

Cochran beat state McDaniel in a June 24 runoff last year after McDaniel got more votes overall than Cochran—but failed to reach 50 percent—in the June 3 primary. Cochran ended up winning due to a widespread, orchestrated, well-funded effort by his campaign and its allies to get Democrats to vote in the Republican primary runoff. McDaniel got about 60 percent of the Republican vote that day, while Cochran got more votes overall thanks to Democratic crossover.

It’s becoming ever clearer why McConnell didn’t want McDaniel in the U.S. Senate, and why he pulled out all the stops to ensure he didn’t make it there. Yet.


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