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The Sandbox Wars 

All this Antonio-Phil friction is less about schools and more about 2010

Wednesday, Jun 21 2006
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SO ANTONIO IS STILL OFFICIALLY NEUTRAL in the gubernatorial battle between Arnold and Phil. And Phil still hasn’t endorsed Antonio’s plan to put the L.A. Unified School District under the mayor’s control. Antonio was once an organizer for the mighty California Teachers Association. But the teachers union doesn’t really like Antonio’s most ambitious plan. And why should it? The teachers union wants the teachers union to run the schools — not Antonio. The teachers union is also underwriting Phil. No wonder Phil doesn’t like Antonio’s plan. Antonio’s lucky Phil hasn’t denounced him as a stand-in for Bush. Maybe Phil’s pal, Angelo, can pony up a few million to run an independent campaign against Antonio’s plan.

Fabian, for his part, does like Antonio’s plan. But Fabian has been very busy playing golf with fat-cat donors and hasn’t been much help. So Antonio had to go to Sacramento to twist some arms to save his plan. Roy and Marlene also went to Sacramento on the same day at the same hour and tried to twist them back in the other direction. The teachers union got twisted in both directions. Mostly, they’d like to retain their grip on the school board and just have Antonio’s plan go away. But the union also has to think twice about openly opposing the state’s second most popular politician and rising star.

Roy mouthed off to the press that after all the backroom meetings in Sacramento, some deal would be worked out so that Antonio could back down and “save face.” Too bad that only 12 hours later a new report placed Roy’s L.A. Unified among the very worst of big-city school districts. Looks like Roy — and maybe Marlene — are the ones who need to do some face saving. By Wednesday, a compromise was reached, and the vague details grant teachers more authority.

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The state’s No. 1 favorite politician, Arnold, is having a grand time watching all this. Okay, technically he might not be the most popular, if you only look at polls. But he sure as hell remains the favorite to win in November, doesn’t he?

As for me, now that you asked, I’m almost as happy as Arnold. Who knew this election was finally going to be so much fun? The Phil-Steve mud fest threatened to drown us all in the muck. But watching Phil and Antonio hose each other down has made it all worth it.

Phil told us again and again and again he was the guy who was going to stand up and fight against the status quo. He meant to say, of course, he’d stand up unless the teachers union told him to sit down and keep his head on the desk. Phil also said he was the guy who was going to boldly raise taxes — on the rich, that is. When it comes to any other taxes on anyone else, forget about it. He might as well be Mr. McClintock.

That’s also too bad. Because most of those who oppose Antonio’s plan have their own plan. They want to spend more on schools and teachers. To do that, you have to raise the sort of taxes that Phil doesn’t want to raise. You have to make Howard roll over in his grave and do something about Proposition 13. Phil doesn’t want to do that. I guess it’s fair to say that Phil, who doesn’t like Antonio’s plan, doesn’t have his own plan instead. Which is pretty bad news for the kids and the schools — unless you, along with Roy and Marlene, think that the schools are spiffy just as they are (in which case we’re going to hold you back from graduation).

ANTONIO ALSO HAS ANOTHER, different sort of plan. Antonio would like to run for governor in 2010 when the seat is open and the Republicans will have no credible candidate, unless John McCain loses in ’08 and moves to Malibu. But if Phil wins in November, he could be there until 2014, by which time Antonio will be a graying viejo and not nearly as cute or perhaps as electable as he is today. Better for Antonio that Phil loses in November and goes back into business with Angelo spreading around more suburban sprawl. Arnold also likes that plan.

Maybe that’s our real choice in November. Either we get another four years of Arnold, a reformed school district and Antonio as governor in 2010. Or we get eight years of Phil and the same brain-dead school system. Who says we don’t have clear-cut choices?

With George W. and the Republicans barely bobbing above 30 percent, Arnold needs all the help he can get. Having Phil run against you is a pretty good start. Having Antonio not actively oppose you is even better. And what about those teachers? First they spend $60 million to oppose Arnold’s ballot initiatives last fall. And now they endorse Arnold’s budget plan, which re-funds public schools, even though they also endorsed his opponent, who says Arnold has defunded the schools.

Politics is funny, isn’t it?

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