Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna tried to throw some cold water on the heated debate over their school reform plan following several threats against Luna in the past few days. Luna has said some of the threats against him amount to standard union tactics or “union thuggery,” though the main teachers’ group in the state is disavowing vandalism and calling for civility.
Luna said there have been three incidents during the past few days. Early Tuesday, someone slashed two tires on Luna’s vehicle and spray painted his car, according to Nampa police. During a morning TV show taping in a Boise coffee shop, a police officer also had to intervene in an incident involving Luna. On Saturday, someone identifying himself as a teacher approached Luna at his mother’s house and started yelling at him, according to Luna’s staff.
“This really began to escalate this weekend,” Luna said during a news conference Tuesday.
Luna spoke with Otter, who said that Idahoans should behave with more civility.
Otter and Luna are backing an overhaul of public schools that would eliminate some teaching positions and raise class sizes. The money from those changes could pay for merit pay for remaining teachers and more technology in classrooms, including laptops or other computers for high school students. Bargaining between teachers and school districts would also face new limits.
Luna said he hasn’t received any other threats, and rejected the idea that he’d need state-funded security to protect him. He also said that he wouldn’t back away from his principles in the face of intimidation.
The threats against Luna were also condemned by the Idaho Republican Party. “This is what happens when you step out and fight against the status quo,” said state party chairman Norm Semanko. “We know the opposition’s rhetoric and misinformation has gotten us to this point today, and we cannot let these hostile tactics win in the end.”
Luna said that opponents of the plans, including teachers’ groups, are writing e-mails and posting on Facebook, which could spur bad behavior.
Luna didn’t specifically mention the Idaho Education Association (IEA), which represents teachers across the state. IEA president Sherri Wood said her group hasn’t sent any e-mails listing home addresses of Luna and other lawmakers. She also said said the IEA promotes civil discussion, since it’s the best way to get the group’s point across.
Wood said she’s confused why Luna is criticizing the publishing of phone numbers, e-mail addresses and physical addresses of lawmakers. “When you’re a public official, your name appears places,” she said.
Lawmakers’ home addresses and phone numbers are usually available on the legislative directory, which is posted online. State law requires any candidates for state office to report their home address and telephone to the secretary of state when they report on how much money they’ve raised and spent on their campaigns.
One group newly formed in opposition to the plan, Idaho Parents and Teachers Together (IPPT), posted the home address and telephone number of Sen. John Goedde, R-Couer d’Alene. The message asked people to “leave notes for his neighbors asking them to talk to him about Luna’s plan to have state bureaucrats decide how teachers run classrooms.”
Goedde said he wasn’t visited by anyone over the weekend, though he said he lives in a low-traffic condominium. He said said the group publishing information like home addresses would make lawmakers more susceptible to events like what happened to Luna.
“It concerned me, and with what happened over the last few days it concerns me more,” Goedde said.
IPTT posted, but later removed, a similar message on Facebook about Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, though it didn’t list his address. Toryanski said he’d been contacted by one of his neighbors who’d shown up on his front door before, but said the discussion wasn’t threatening.
Mike Lanza, a Boise writer who founded the Facebook group that organized a rally at the State Capitol last week, said Luna’s publicizing the events to distract from the criticism from him and others opposed to the education overhaul.
“Anyone looking at the moms and dads and grandparents supporting our group — people busy with jobs, homes, kids — would quickly see the absurdity in Mr. Luna claiming that any of us are issuing threats,” Lanza said in an e-mail to IdahoReporter.com. “We’re a little too consumed by work deadlines, dinner, and laundry.”
Wood said she’s friended IPTT on Facebook, but there isn’t a formal relationship between the IEA and IPTT.
Goedde’s committee is examining Luna’s reforms in detail this week. Luna’s plan was initially separated into two piece of legislation, but it’s since been revised into three pieces. There have been other small changes made to the plan, including a reduction on the number of online classes students are required to take.