Washington state could soon elect their first African American to statewide office, if only she can make it through the topsy-turvy world of education politics. Erin Jones, an educator and community advocate is in a heated race to be her state’s education chief. Her opponent, Chris Reykdal, recently sent an email to his followers likening Jones to Donald Trump. It’s a loaded charge, especially lobbed at an affable and politically liberal person like Jones. We’re republishing the post below by John Prosser from blog Rise Up For Students to take you in the weeds of how the politics of white privilege can be a barrier to electing even the most agreeable people of color. Beware, it’s a challenging read, and highly localized to Washington, but it is a lawyer-like walk through the anatomy of how dirty politics and stealthy communications are used to disable qualified candidates from office.
by John Prosser
Chris Reykdal and I have something in common it seems: we’re both sick of privileged white men.
In a campaign email he sent to his supporters asking for donations just last Saturday morning (Sept. 24, at 8:58 AM) Reykdal emphasized that he is “Sick of Donald Trump!”
Which brings me to the otherwise.
Like Trump, Chris Reykdal is a privileged white man content with lying and using dog-whistle racism to win an election against a more qualified woman candidate.
Last Saturday morning Reykdal sent an email soliciting donations from supporters that compared Erin Jones — who after winning the primary has an excellent shot at becoming Washington State’s first black person (man or woman) elected to a statewide office — to Donald Trump.
Let me reiterate that slowly and clearly: Chris Reykdal, a privileged white man, just compared Erin Jones, a black woman vying to become the state’s first elected black leader at the state level, to Donald Trump.
There are some Donald Trump tactics being used here, only it’s Reykdal, not Jones, who is gutter diving.
Examining Chris’s Email to Donors
Chris begins his solicitation email with the Trump comparison and then supports his disgust with claims that Erin Jones is being bought by corporate reformers. Not only is this statement untrue (stop lying Chris), Chris is the candidate who is being supported by excessive organizational contributions. Let’s examine his claims.
Here is Chris’s email in full (bold is original to the email):
I’m sick of Donald Trump! I’m sick of the bigger symbolism of his campaign. I’m done with excessively wealthy individuals trying to buy elections without a remote understanding of how to effectively serve the interests of the public. Guess what? It’s happening even in my OSPI race! The millionaire corporate-style reformers are writing $2,000 (maximum) checks to my opponent.
I respect their desire for “change,” but these folks know nothing about the Superintendent’s office or quite frankly, how to truly help kids, teachers, and schools – most likely because they’ve never worked in education, public policy, or education finance! They want schools to run like for-profit companies. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING! THE paramount duty in our State Constitution is FULLY and AMPLY funding our K-12 public schools. The Constitution does not say vouchers, charters, or privatization. Our kids and our schools are not profit centers to be shut down or “right-sized” to make an extra buck. In fact, quite the opposite. We need to drive additional resources to communities and kids most in need!
Unlike my opponent, I won’t be getting $2,000 checks from wealthy school privatizers, but I do have you: $25, $50, $100, and $250 at a time. Ballots go out in four weeks and it is critical that our army of supporters step up right now.
Chris claims that “the millionaire corporate-style reformers are writing $2,000 (maximum) checks to my opponent,” and that “unlike my opponent, I won’t be getting $2,000 checks from wealthy school privatizers.” Let’s address these claims first, since they are the theme that underlies his being “sick of the bigger symbolism of [Trump’s] campaign.”
A review of the Public Disclosure Commission’s database on campaign contributions reveals that Reykdal is blatantly misleading his supporters. Both simple math and a line-by-line analysis tells us so.
Erin Jones has received, as of this writing, $144,345.15 in contributions from 1,627 donations. That is an average of $88.72 per donation.
Chris Reykdal has received $184,460.96 from 703 donations. Fewer donations and more money will equal a higher average donation. Chris’s average donation is $262.39. That means, on average, Chris has received almost three times the amount of money per donation than Erin (2.96 times more per donation that Erin).
That Chris has less donors but more money tells us right away that he has more big money donors than Erin. But let’s examine those numbers.
The chart below shows donations to both candidates of $1,000 and above. Erin has 23 of those and Chris has 39.
Examining the contributions we see that, of Chris’s 39 donations of $1,000 or more, only three were from individuals and one of those individuals is a lobbyist. The remaining donations are from Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, unions, corporations, the Nisqually Tribe, and PACs. In fact, of those 39 donations, 10 are from PACs, making Chris “PAC-man” Reykdal’s accusations that Erin Jones is beholden to special interests blatantly hypocritical.
Of Erin’s 23 donations of $1,000 or more, all but five are from individuals (Tulalip Tribe, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, National Women’s Political Caucus of WA Campaign Fund, Public School Employees for Washington Political Fund, and the Justice for All PAC).
The chart below captures the difference between individual and organizational donors of $1,000 or more to each candidate.
Chris wants his donors and voters to believe that Erin Jones is raking in some endless stream of corporate contributions, but that is a gross distortion. Of Erin’s seven $2,000 donations, one is from Howard Behar (former President of Starbucks), one is from Chris Larson (co-owner of the Seattle Mariners), and one is from Maryanne Tagney (President of the Board for the Seattle Opera). Three donations from philanthropic individuals is neither a harrowing trend nor a scary revelation.
Chris’s email likening Erin Jones to Donald Trump is. It’s also dog-whistle racism. By likening Erin to the exuberant racist Donald Trump, Chris is signaling a coded and subtle message to his supporters of Erin’s non-existent reverse racism. That is wrong. That is racist. Shame on Chris Reykdal.
Some Words from Chris Reykdal and 10 Rebuttals
Chris’s email was also examined by the SWWEducation.org blog (a blog I only learned of after it examined Chris’s email). The blog post compared donations between the two candidates. I mention its post because Chris took the time to reply in the comment section of the blog to allay any concerns raised by his soliciting email.
Here is Chris’s reply in full. I am numbering claims that I will rebut below.
Thank you for covering this topic. My opponent has dozens and dozens of donors on installment plans. They pay small amounts every month so each contribution appears to look like a unique donor. Some people are reflected 6, 8, even 10 times as unique donors.(1) A simple PDC download of contributions into Excel and a “remove duplicate function” will reveal that we are within a few hundred donors of each other.(2) Both campaigns are very grassroots.(3) Let’s face it, this is a non-partisan position that doesn’t get much attention or resources.(4) Combined we have raised barely over $300,000 or about 5 pennies per voter.(5)
The major point of my fundraising letter is the growing trend of exceedingly powerful individuals who try to buy individual elected seats for themselves or their champions.(6) BOTH SIDES of the political aisle have these influencers. I used Trump as the example only because he is going for the ultimate office – the White House.(7) I even say it is the symbolism of his campaign that most bothers me. But make no mistake, Democrats have plenty of these folks as well.
I am proud to have support by Republicans and Democrats across the state. Business and labor across the state. What I don’t have, that my opponent does, are exceedingly powerful individuals with a history of giving large amounts of personal money to candidate and PACs.(8) I find this kind of donation far different than a business or a labor union. They are not representing a group of people (workers, employees, shareholders, customers, etc.). They are representing only themselves and their singular interests.(9)
I believe deeply in one person – one vote.(10) I believe in our Constitution! When some individuals can influence one political race – whether the White House or a school superintendent (whether a Democrat or Republican), I believe we have trouble with the Republic and our larger Democracy.
Anybody is free to contact me directly at email@example.com or my personal cell phone at 360-790-3151 if they would like to discuss this further.
Rebuttal 1: Erin Jones has “dozens and dozens” of donors on installment plans because Erin Jones has more individual donors, like teachers, that can’t simply give big-time money every paycheck but still deeply care about this election and office. Chris’s shaming of these donors is troubling.
Rebuttal 2: Chris challenges voters to export the PDC numbers into Excel and use the “remove duplicate function” to reveal the true numbers of unique contributors. He claims this “will reveal that we are within a few hundred donors of each other.” This is a blatant mischaracterization of the unique number of contributors. After using the “remove duplicate function” it turns out Chris has 413 unique contributors and Erin has 914 unique contributors. This is not “within a few hundred donors.” In fact, this reveals that Erin has more than twice the number of unique donors than Chris. Using these numbers to determine the average contribution per donor (as opposed to the average contribution per donation, which I examined above), we find that Chris’s donors contribute an average of 2.58 times more than Erin’s donors. That is, unique donors to Erin average $157.93 of giving while unique donors to Chris average $407.20 of giving. Chris wants to minimize the significance of these numbers by claiming the campaigns are “within a few hundred donors of each other,” but his dishonest characterization shouldn’t fool anybody.
Rebuttal 3: “Grassroots” means “ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization’s membership.” Chris’s biggest donors (over $500 single donations) are overwhelmingly organizations, not people. This is not grassroots. Of his 43 donations of more than $500, only 3 are from unique individuals. Comparatively, Erin Jones has 25 donations of more than $500 and of those, 15 are from individuals. That’s five times as many contributions from individuals with 18 less single donations of more than $500. Chris wants to appeal to the liberal ideal of grassroots, knowing that Washington voters were keen on Bernie Sanders and his grassroots efforts. But the facts show that his campaign is demonstrably less grassroots than Erin Jones’s. Don’t be tricked by his misleading language.
Rebuttal 4: Chris wants people to believe that this race gets little attention. While this may have been true in the past, it is not true this year. The Washington State Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision has brought an unprecedented level of attention to this race. McCleary found that Washington State is failing to amply fund public education. To this day, the state legislature has yet to meet the Court’s funding mandates. Chris Reykdal has been a member of this ineffective legislature since 2010 – before McCleary was even decided. This race is a marquee contest in Washington’s 2016 elections and our vote for Superintendent is critical to ensure that Washington’s students get a leader that can transform our inequitable system of education into a system that benefits all children.
Rebuttal 5: Chris claims that between the two candidates they have raised barely over $300,000. While we differ that $328,806.11 is barely over $300,000, the more important takeaway is that, of the total contributions between two candidates, Chris has raised 56% of that figure. Chris is the big-money candidate but you wouldn’t know it by his solicitation email. He paints Erin with a brush accusing her of being beholden to donors while it is he, not Erin, who gets more money from less people.
Rebuttal 6: Chris wants voters to believe that individual donors are a greater threat to democracy than organizational donors. This claim is contrary to logic and evidence. Individual donors in Washington are capped in the amount they can contribute to specific candidates. However, individuals can give an unlimited amount of money to Political Action Committees (PACs). Even if PACs abide by the same limitations of individual donors, there is no limit to how many distinct PACs can contribute to a candidate. An individual wanting to circumvent campaign finance regulations could theoretically give unlimited amounts of money to multiple PACs, each of which support one candidate. A PAC therefore poses a distinct threat to democracy because it obscures from view the source of contributions to candidates. The danger of PACs should be clear when you consider Super PACs at the federal level and their ability to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates. Super PACs are not at issue here, but they serve as a rebuttal that individual contributions are more dangerous than organizational contributions. Chris “PAC-Man” Reykdal is swimming in PAC money. That is a far greater red-flag than Erin’s contributions from several wealthy individuals.
Rebuttal 7: Chris’s comparison of Erin Jones to Donald Trump was meant to associate Erin Jones to Trump. It was not, as Chris claims, “merely because the candidate is running for the highest office.” Chris’s comparison is similar to throwing pasta at a wall to see if it will stick. If it does, he gets money and votes; if it doesn’t, he can walk it back (e.g. say it was “merely because the candidate is running for the highest office”). Trump himself uses this technique when he tells his racist, sexist jokes. The technique, masterfully examined and detailed by English Professor and attorney Jason Sneed, helps a candidate to assimilate ideas, even at the risk of alienating voters (the alienation serves a purpose of grouping people into two groups: in-groups, those people who agree with the idea, and out-groups, those who reject the idea). By comparing Erin to Trump, Reykdal is trying to assimilate the idea of Erin being an untrustworthy, unqualified, candidate for this office. By sending this idea to his supporters, he effectively tests its use with his in-group (which would allow him later to use the language, if assimilated and well received, at large). Chris’s comparison is racist. He should be held to task for its use.
Rebuttal 8: Erin Jones has very few (less than 5) of the big-money donors Chris is referring to. I identified these donors above. Chris, however, is awash in PAC contributions. That is a far greater threat to transparent elections than Erin’s individual donors. See also “Rebuttal 6.”
Rebuttal 9: I am a member of a union. I disagree with my union’s endorsement of Chris Reykdal. The process by which unions choose their endorsements is not as democratic as unions would like you to believe. At a union meeting, while any member may attend, only representatives with voting credentials get to vote. For example, at my teacher’s union meetings, I am one of four voting members from my school. My colleagues elected me at my school site to represent them, but with 54 school sites, and limited representation per site, only a fraction of union members actually get to vote. When an organization endorses a candidate, the process is even less representative. I am the former PAC-Chair for WEA-Tacoma, meaning I used to organize and conduct candidate interviews. Only a handful of people sit in on these interviews, and it’s their recommendation that gets brought to the larger body to vote on. An individual with a personal agenda wishing to sway an endorsement would have great power on this small committee. Chris may find that this process better represents the interests of more people (as opposed to individual interests), but especially in this election, a large population of my union’s teachers (both locally and at the state level) disagree with the union’s endorsement. Our voices are therefore chilled by our union’s endorsement. This is not ideal democracy.
Rebuttal 10: Chris doesn’t understand the meaning of 1 person 1 vote. When he takes union money raised from the funds of all of its members, after a vote by less than all of its members, he violates 1 person 1 vote. When Chris takes seemingly endless contributions from PACs (which can receive unlimited contributions from individuals), he violates the ideal of 1 person 1 vote. When he takes money from Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser directly, organizations who can benefit directly from the votes of state legislators, he violates 1 person 1 vote. “PAC-Man” indeed.
Chris Reykdal’s email to supporters Saturday was racist and full of lies — a tactic straight from the playbook of Trump himself. Misleading his supporters to believe Erin Jones is funneling countless donations from education-reformers obscures the reality that Chris takes in more big-money donations from more big-money organizations than Erin. This is the truer threat to an honest election. Erin Jones is a grass-roots candidate who relies on small donations from you and me. Don’t buy into Chris’s lies. Don’t subscribe to his dog-whistle racism. Don’t believe in his white-savior mentality. Don’t vote for Chris Reykdal. Our kids deserve the best. Erin Jones is the best.
Tacoma’s News Tribune endorsed Erin Jones this past week. I encourage all voters to look at the facts and then do the same.