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McFeely: Minnesota GOP refuses to learn lesson about public schools

Republicans apparently think everybody hates public education as much as they do, which is far from the truth in Minnesota

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Forum New Service columnist Mike McFeely
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MOORHEAD — It was only one line in a lengthy commentary in a Twin Cities newspaper written by a longtime Republican activist in Minnesota, but it said everything.

Annette Meeks, an unsuccesful lieutenant governor candidate in 2010, wrote a post-election piece dissecting why the GOP can't win statewide races in Minnesota. Republicans were again swept in all major state offices, continuing a statewide losing streak since 2006, while also managing to lose the state House and Senate.

One would think the dissection could consist of one sentence: Stop being loons.

But Annette, being a politician and the CEO of a conservative "think-tank," wrote 1,000 other words and hit on the usual suspects. Don't be election deniers. Get better candidates. Form a "vision." Reform the nomination process.

One sentence, though, stands out.

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"Campaign messaging should avoid antagonizing millions of parents who have no choice but to send their children to a public school."

Republicans have been getting hammered in the decisive suburban Twin Cities for several reasons — most notably their support of Donald Trump and more recently their insistence on overturning Roe v. Wade — but it's their attacks on public schools that's the biggest one.

While Republicans see public schools as America-hating black holes of liberal indoctrination, sexual deviance, kids going to the bathroom in litter boxes, critical race theory and subversive books, the vast majority of Minnesotans — of Americans, actually — see public schools as the center of their children's lives and the bedrocks of their communities.

Republicans see things that don't exist — fueled by the right-wing bubble of radio, TV and Facebook — while the rest of us see the most important institution in our hometowns.

Could you imagine your city or town without its elementary, middle and high schools? Yeah, neither can most people.

But Meeks' phrasing, "parents who have no choice but to send their kids to public school," is at once political phrasing and an insult to public-school supporters.

It is both a nod to Republicans' obsession with "school choice," also known as taxpayer handouts to private schools, and their bizarre belief that most Minnesotans hate public schools as much as they do.

Put another way, Meeks is saying, "We know you hate your public schools, but you're stuck with them because you don't have as much money as we do, so we'll just soften our messages attacking public education because it costs us votes."

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The problem for Republicans is that the rest of us don't hate public schools. The vast majority graduated from them, send their children to them, know friends and neighbors who work in them and — here's the key, GOP friends — want them to succeed because it's best for our kids and our communities.

News flash: We know they aren't perfect — read Forum columnist Jim Shaw's piece about Fargo public schools — but would prefer solutions to fix the problems as opposed to whackjob discussions about non-existent problems.

"Teachers are burned out and demoralized. What can we do to help?" vs. "I HEARD THEY ARE TRYING TO TURN BOYS INTO GIRLS AT THE SCHOOL AND ALSO LITTERBOXES!!!!!!"

It doesn't play on Fox News but it would in the suburbs, where most happily and proudly choose to send their kids to public schools.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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