UPDATED BELOW 2/6
At the beginning of the 2011 legislative session, Idaho Education Superintendent Tom Luna surprised the state by unveiling legislation designed to accomplish a draconian overhaul of public education, by diverting a significant portion of students' school time to online course from private entities, in essence swapping live teachers for one on a laptop. While vociferous opposition to the so called "Students Come First" legislation was prompt, education stakeholders had little time to mobilize against a coordinated Republican effort to shepherd the legislation to Governor Otter's desk. Realizing the fix was in, opponents concerted their efforts into an initiative putting the Students Come First legislation to a public referendum. Both Otter and Luna have vowed to fight these efforts.
The money behind Idaho education reform is prodigious, with at least two lengthy expensive newsletters already sent to every Idahoan via mail and/or newspaper outlet extolling the virtues of the legislation. Some of Idaho's wealthiest and most powerful business interests are behind education reform, notably Albertsons heir Joe Scott, who has significant ownership interest in K-9, Inc., a private education outlet. In contrast, one prong of the Students Come First legislation was designed to gut the primary loser in the legislation, Idaho's public educators, and their union the Idaho Education Association, mirroring Republican efforts in other states.
The referendum on Students Comes First will take place on the date of the general election, the first Tuesday of November, 2012. Word on the street is that John Foster has been tapped to lead the political efforts for Republicans against the initiatives, and in favor of leaving intact the draconian education reform legislation. John Foster is the former executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party. Foster is most notorious for his role as a staffer for Idaho's blue dog Congressman Walt Minnick, and leading Minnick's 2010 re-election campaign to an ignoble defeat. Since then, Foster has headed the office for a lobbying group. Foster's move makes this passage look almost prophetic:
John Foster demonstrated himself to be very ambitious, capable and smart tactician with Machiavellian tendencies who quickly identified the forces significant to running a campaign. And while these qualities may serve Foster well in his personal ambitions they proved to be double edged swords for Walt Minnick and Idaho Democrats. Indeed Foster's evident hostility towards Democrats when coupled with his caustic corrosive comments about the Democratic Party gives one pause on whether his new found career as a lobbyist might not have been his primary motivation all along. The jury has been out on whether Foster should have been jettisoned early or cloned. His regrettable vindictive comments in the Weekly makes this an easier determination for Idaho Democrats.
UPDATED 2/6: A full day after this post, Popkey digs up some more of the story. Despite the reports of Foster himself informing a variety of people at party headquarters and the IEA, he didn't seem to have this project cleared with his other clients.
Foster and his Seattle-based lobbying and consulting firm, Strategies 360, have lost one client as a result — the Professional Firefighters of Idaho, which is allied with the Idaho Education Association on many issues.
“It was a shock to hear,” said Mike Walker, a Boise firefighter and lobbyist. “John provided really good service and good advice, but loyalty’s pretty important.”
The kerfuffle forced Foster to abandon his plan for a contract with his company, and to take the job on the side. “It was decided that the firm itself wasn’t going to be involved,” said company spokesman Paul Queary.
Among Strategies 360’s clients is the Alaska teachers union. Said Foster: “I offered to just do this on my own.”
Emphasis mine. The unions are showing some solidarity, which they'll need to do, given the coordinated attack by Republicans at the state level nationwide. A few days later, Foster's employer, Strategies 360, scrubbed all reference from its website to John Foster and his partner former Minnick chief of Staff, Kate Haas, or even to having an Idaho office. Again Popkey follows up:
The controversy over former Democratic operative John Foster's decision to work with Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter and GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna to defend the 2011 "Students Come First" K-12 reforms appears to have cost two aides to former Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick their jobs.
In an email Saturday, Foster writes:
"Greetings. I apologize for the mass message, and to those of you who may receive this message twice.
"I want you to know that I no longer work for Strategies 360, and their Idaho office has been closed. You can contact me any time at gmail.com. My cell number remains the same. My business partner and colleague, Kate Haas, is also no longer with the company. You can reach her at @gmail.com.
"I am not sure of my next step, but I am confident that both Kate and I will land on our feet. In the meantime, I look forward to reconnecting with each of you.
Perhaps John's pronouncement of the death of the Idaho Democratic Party was not quite accurate.