We'd call this the silly season in L.A. politics, but that would imply the existence of other, more serious seasons. Suffice to say, here's something silly that just happened:
It all started with the California Charter Schools Association Advocates (or CCSA Advocates), the political arm of the California charter school movement. There are more than 230 charter schools in the city, and the CCSA Advocates is a growing political force in LAUSD, the nation's second-largest school district. During the March 3 primary just around the corner, they've taken aim at their mortal enemy, Bennett Kayser, who votes against allowing anymore new charter schools in Los Angeles — or renewing the existing ones — about 90 percent of the time.
The CCSA has put out a number of ugly campaign mailers bashing Kayser, one of which accused Kayser of trying "to stop Latino children from attending schools in white neighborhoods.” That one was even denounced by the CCSA's candidate of choice, successful charter school founder Ref Rodriguez, who said the ad used "race in a reprehensible and divisive way.”
Now the CCSA is rolling out a television ad (they've purchased $110,000 of airtime) laying into Kayser. Watch it here:
Kinda cheesy. And it accuses Kayser of cutting money from the school district, something (a), the school board had to do because of the budget crisis and (b), was advocated by Superintendent John Deasy, whom the pro-charter school people really liked.
But what's with the whole coffee mug dropping and shattering in the above video? Kinda weird, right?
Well, a couple of LAUSD activists decided that the ad showed LAUSD school board member Bennet Kayser himself dropping the mug, and they further decided that he was dropping the mug because Bennett Kayser has Parkinson's disease and his hands shake a lot. Then parent advocate and school board gadfly Scott Folsom called the ad "a new low."
Robert Skeels, a virulent anti-charter schools, anti-Deasy, pro-teachers union activist, took to Twitter and compared the ad to Nazi party's persecution of disabled people.
The Kayser campaign itself soon weighed in, with an apparently serious statement, saying:
In the ad, CCSAA implies that Board member Kayser drops and breaks a cup of coffee. While not overtly pointing to the Board member’s Parkinson’s disease, the advertisement sure comes close with the imagery. CCSAA has shown itself again to be beyond the bounds of decent, civil discussions about policy and vision for LAUSD.
“California Charter Schools Association Advocate's scorched earth campaigning harms the body politic, pollutes democracy and surely models the worst for our youth. This is no more than election bullying,” notes Kayser. “On behalf of the Parkinson’s community and the students, and parents and employees of LAUSD dealing with their own disabilities and special needs, I implore CCSA to just stop it.”
Their statement overlooks the obvious fact that the mug dropping and shattering is a reference to the 1995 film, The Usual Suspects:
The film, in case you haven't seen it, is about a police detective interviewing a small-time crook named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) about a massacre aboard a ship docked in the Port of Los Angeles. Kint spins a long yarn about a group of criminals recruited by some arch-evil gangland kingpin named Kayser Soze. In the end (big-time spoiler alert here), the cop dramatically drops a coffee mug, realizing that Kint made the whole thing up by drawing on bits and bobs from the cop's own cork board. In fact, Kint himself is Kayser Soze.
The TV ad's mastermind, political consultant John Shallman, had this to say in a statement:
"The ad was a spoof of the Academy Award-winning movie, The Usual Suspects. Anyone who has seen the movie knows that the cop dropped the coffee cup — NOT the villain—who happens to share the name of Mr. Kayser.
It's a strange reference to make. Someone on team Shallman must've had a brainstorm: "Bennett Kayser. ... Kayser Soze!"
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There's no actual point being made, comparing Kayser to Soze; Keyser Soze is a villain, the CCSA wants you to think Bennett Kayser's a villain. It's one of those things that sounds clever but isn't actually clever.
We're guessing someone in Bennett Kayser's orbit must have realized the ad was a spoof, not an attack on his disability.
But the Kayser campaign decided to play the umbrage card anyway. Campaigns love getting offended at their opponents' campaign ads, especially when it's an ad by an Independent Expenditure group or Super PAC, as is this particular ad. The morally indignant complaint by Kayser is meant to turn your attention to the fact that his opponent, the charter school founder Ref Rodriguez, is being backed by a PAC, and make Ref Rodriguez seem like some sort of puppet.
And what does all this have to do with educating children? What does all this have to do with anything? Not a whole lot. That's politics for you.