A loss of discipline

The original intent of this post was to discuss onetime educator and current candidate for governor David Craig’s thoughts on Common Core, which were the subject of an op-ed in the Washington Times yesterday. We had touched on the subject of education in an interview I did with Craig when he announced his campaign last month, and Common Core has become a whipping boy for those concerned about government intrusion on our children’s lives. Craig points out this phenomenon of an expanding federal role:

It used to be a teacher’s primary goal was to “reach” a student. That will never happen as long as politicians and education bureaucrats in Washington insert themselves between teachers and students. Common Core is a backdoor way of nationalizing education, one based on a notion that children are to be churned out of schools on conveyor belts and into the workforce. It will never work.

I agree with David’s sentiment insofar as it goes, and he brought up much of this in our discussion. It’s also worth pointing out that education is the lead issue on Craig’s issue page on his gubernatorial website.

Unfortunately this passion he shows in his op-ed and interview doesn’t seem to come through there. After explaining his career choice, initiatives in magnet schools, and new school construction, the curriculum receives short shrift:

As Governor, David will leverage his experience in public education to ensure that, at all levels schools are centered on one priority: to prepare children for careers of their choice. Too often, kids are coming out of college and advanced degree programs saddled with debt. The debt burden is so high, that parents and students are questioning whether the programs are worth the price. There must be tighter coordination between the academic community and the job market.

Craig states the problem well enough, but “tighter coordination” is really a platitude. Instead, what’s really needed is tighter competition between public schools, private schools, and homeschooling by allowing money to follow the child.

As it turns out, though, this run-of-the-mill op-ed comes on the heels of an unforced error on the part of the Craig campaign, something for which I will share a little bit of inside information. It’s nothing earthshaking to be sure, but necessary for context.

Let me freely admit up front: I’ve never run a political campaign, so a lot of what I’m saying comes from being a simple observer of how some political operations seem to run like well-oiled machines while others stumble their way to the election – generally those are the losing ones, but there have been a few which managed to overcome missteps.

But I was made aware (and sent a copy) of the op-ed a day in advance, most likely in the hopes of posting and discussion on my website. Among the active campaigns, I probably have the best professional relationship with David Craig’s because I know some of the players from many months back while others made an effort to introduce themselves to me. A little respect goes a long way.

And while Friday is already a little bit of a handicap for news coverage, the fact that David had an op-ed placed in the Washington Times is still good, basic free media for the campaign despite the fact that nowhere in the piece is it stated that Craig is running for governor or would have more to do with the Maryland educational system should he prevail. But those Maryland residents who read the Times probably know he’s in the race to be the state’s next chief executive.

In a perfect world, this op-ed would have been discussed on the social media and maybe drawn more coverage on background. (One could argue, though, that the campaign should have held off on it until August when school is more on people’s minds. We’ll see if the back-to-school sales start this weekend, in which case the timing isn’t so bad.) It would provide a lead-in to a more major series of events slated for Tuesday that most in the Craig campaign were building up anticipation for.

Instead, though, I may be the only person in Maryland paying attention to this op-ed from David because it was absolutely blown out of the news cycle by the announcement that Jeannie Haddway-Riccio would be Craig’s running mate. That, my friends, was supposed to be Tuesday’s big news, which would have given him additional attention coming into the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake down in Crisfield that’s generally the state’s most-covered summer political event.

And when I later found out some of the circumstances of the running mate discussion, my thoughts about a leak? Well, they may not have been officially confirmed but I would bet a stack of money as to how the news got to John Wagner and I am not a betting man.

What you have here is a classic example of giving a heads-up vs. a potentially damaging leak. No, in the long-term scheme of things it’s not a big surprise that Craig named Haddaway-Riccio – she’s an attractive young female candidate who’s worked her way into qualification for such an office. As a local party official I’m glad Craig did it early so we can see how other dominoes fall locally now that the seat has likely opened up. But losing control of the narrative can be a larger problem later on, depending on what comes out of an undisciplined staffer’s mouth. It’s hard enough to find good help in this state, as other candidates have painfully learned.

The Tuesday events will thus be somewhat anticlimactic because there aren’t all that many who pine to hear from the second banana on the ticket, particularly now that the surprise is gone. And who knows? Perhaps that will be a day for one of the competing candidates to make a major announcement of his own, truly burying Craig in the news cycle.

I may not be a campaign veteran, but it seems to me that controlling the narrative and not trying to be the big man on campus would serve the boss best. It’s a lesson I’ve learned in eight years of doing this job, and it serves me well to remember it.