I’ve been wrestling with something for a long time now. I found out something. Something big. Usually my first instinct is to get it out there. But this was BIG, and if I was wrong about it, it could have shot me in the foot. It concerns a legislator and an election. But more than that, it concerned friends. Friends who are very supportive of this particular legislator. I’ve had wrestling matches in my head before about these kind of things, but usually the need for truth prevails. This time though, it was different.
I reached out to the legislator about this a month ago. The legislator confirmed what I found out was true. I asked the legislator why they did what they did. The legislator explained it to me, and for the past month, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around their answer. I did talk to some of the friends who support this legislator hoping they could give some type of insight into why the legislator made the choice he did. There really wasn’t anything they could say that would assuage my doubts about him.
It comes down to truth. After seeing another Delaware blogger praise this legislator to the high heavens today, I could no longer stand by and not let people know this. And as I was working on this article, many other dots began to connect. They will certainly make up their mind either way. I assume many will just brush it off. But for some of those who directly support this legislator, they could change their mind about him. I don’t know. That is their choice, just as this choice is mine.
Since I started this blog, two bills were very contentious. One was just getting around to a vote when I began this blog. The other became the central point of my blog for about five months last year. House Bill 334 and House Bill 50. The Smarter Balanced Assessment and the Opting Out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment bills.
Many know the story about what happened with the Smarter Balanced Assessment legislation. But if you don’t, here is a quick rundown. House Bill 334 was introduced by two primary sponsors and only one co-sponsor. Former State Rep. (and also Chair of the House Education Committee at the time) Darryl Scott and Senator David Sokola sponsored the bill. State Rep. Deb Heffernan was the only co-sponsor. The bill came out on 5/8/14. It was released from the House Education Committee on 6/4/14. The House voted on the bill 6/17/14 where it passed with 30 yes, 9 no, and 2 absent. From there, it went to the Senate Education Committee where it was released on 6/25/14. It was put on the agenda for a full Senate vote on 6/26/14. The day came. Senator Bryan Townsend gave a very impassioned speech about the bill and the damage this test could do. The Senate voted.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment was defeated! Students would NOT have to take this test so many were dreading. It was a rare moment of victory for teachers, students, schools, and parents. News quickly shot out of Legislative Hall. I put up a quick article. Everyone was shocked. For once, our legislators as a collective whole, a majority of them, had done the best thing for kids. And then things went south…
The bill was reconsidered and brought back up for a vote. And then the moment of victory became a moment of darkness.
The Smarter Balanced bill, House Bill 334, passed. Four Delaware Senators flipped their vote from no to yes. Democrat Senators Bruce Ennis, David McBride and Harris McDowell changed their minds, as did Republican Senator Greg Lavelle. Now because Delaware is such a Blue state, everyone went after the Republican, Lavelle. He got roasted on the blogs. No one really went after the three Democrat Senators. Had Lavelle been the only one that flip-flopped, the Smarter Balanced Assessment legislation would have died.
But there is one part of the story that has never been revealed. Until now. This is something no one ever thought to ask. Who reconsidered the bill to be brought back up for a vote?
In the Delaware General Assembly, if a bill is about to die, legislators may vote no on it even when they want to say yes. They do this because they want to bring the bill back up for reconsideration. It is a smart tactic if you want to give the bill another shot after some discussion. In the case of House Bill 334, I think everyone assumed it was Senator Greg Lavelle. There have been rumors about what Lavelle got for doing this over the years. One, which is very ironic, is that his wife got a slot on the IEP Task Force. The reason I say this is ironic is because that would have been my fault.
The day before the vote, Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 was introduced. The aim of this legislation was to create an IEP Task Force to see what improvements Delaware could make with the IEP process for Students With Disabilities. I was very ticked off at the time because the day prior, the United States Dept. of Education released their annual findings for each state. Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”. I assumed the IEP Task Force was created as a result of that. The primary sponsor, which is also ironic given our history, was Senator David Sokola. But the members of the task force were missing one part: parents. Yes, many of the slots for the task force could have parents on it serving a dual role, such as legislators, or teachers, or specialists. But there could be a potential conflict of interest with that. If a question came up about some aspect of special education that conflicted between the role of someone working for a school or that of a parent of a special needs child, which side would that person lean towards? I wanted parents on the task force who were not involved in anything. I wrote every single legislator that night. I begged them to put a parent on the task force. I even made a recommendation: one from each county of the state. No one knew who I was except maybe a couple of legislators so I’m sure they were thinking “who the hell is this guy?” But I was wrong. The next day, several of the legislators responded back to me. Many of them said they would fight for this. The Senate voted on the legislation, but no amendment was added. A few legislators, among them Kim Williams, Rebecca Walker, Andria Bennett, and Darryl Scott said they would attempt to get the Senate to reconsider the bill and vote on it again. They did, and the amendment was added. Three parents, from each county, would be a part of the IEP Task Force. And sure enough, the parent from New Castle County was Ruth Lavelle. The members weren’t announced until a couple of months later but many speculated if this was what Lavelle got in exchange for his flip on House Bill 334.
Two years go by. No one really talks about that dark day in the Senate when they defeated a bad bill, reconsidered it, and brought it back. In a casual conversation, it comes up. Someone tells me who reconsidered the bill. My mouth dropped to the floor. I asked a few other legislators in the Senate. They tell me the same name. I reached out to my friends. I was very upset. I wrote an article teasing this. Decisions by legislators ticked me off before. That is no secret. But this one enraged me. More than I had been since the House didn’t override the veto of House Bill 50. I felt fooled by this legislator, and it wasn’t the first time. But I took this legislator at their word the previous time. I always approached their actions with a bit of caution afterwards, but at heart, I believed this legislator was the real deal. They made a mistake on the other issue, it could have cost that bill, but it worked out in the end.
Before I reveal who the legislator was, I have to give some information about what happened during the gap between the defeat of the Smarter Balanced bill and the reconsideration which led to the bills passage in the Senate. In the above pictures showing the two vote counts, one hour and three minutes elapsed between the two votes. I knew, based on reports from legislators and others, as well as the legislator who brought the bill up for reconsideration, that everything blew up in the Senate. As the story goes, representatives from the Delaware Department of Education, Donna Johnson, and Lindsay O’Mara (Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor at the time) swarmed on the Senate like a tornado. They were told the DOE had already purchased the Smarter Balanced Assessment and they couldn’t just get their money back. As well, there were possibly things said about Markell issuing an Executive Order if it didn’t pass. I’ve heard from many that Senator Lavelle was really getting hammered by the group. Several legislators went into a backdoor meeting with the enraged DOE and friends. And then everyone came back onto the floor of the Senate. One voice said something to the affect of “I would like to bring House Bill 334 back for reconsideration.” It had to be someone who said no originally.
It was not Senators Ennis, McBride, McDowell…or Senator Greg Lavelle.
It was Senator Bryan Townsend.
The very same Senator who argued so affectively that the Senate killed the bill. The same Senator who had fought against this test with every fiber of his being. He brought it up for reconsideration. And he voted no on it for a second time.
Before I go into what happened when I asked Townsend about this, I need to clarify something that happened with the opt out bill, House Bill 50.
When House Bill 50 came up for a Senate vote, there were two amendments added to it. The first was from Senator Sokola which stated a parent could opt their child out of district assessments as well. Townsend added an amendment which stated high school juniors themselves could opt out. Both passed. I reached out to Townsend about this. I wasn’t happy. I came off as very angry, and I was. Everyone knew Sokola was going to add an amendment to kick it back to the House. But Townsend adding one was a surprise. No one expected that. I knew that additional weight on this bill could kill it. We went back and forth. He felt the opt out side wasn’t willing to listen and both sides were being vitriolic and polarizing. Townsend had gone on record about this at the Senate Education Committee. It didn’t feel, to me, that he truly understood where the parents were coming from. This legislation was important to parents who supported it. Many became involved in politics who had never set foot in Legislative Hall. I let him know that if the bill died it could affect him politically. He stated he would monitor the situation and he would prepare for additional efforts that would better assist students. At the time, I assumed the Senate could revote on the amendments, but I didn’t understand the procedure for it at the time. It would have to go back to the House because it passed the Senate. It was not defeated, so it couldn’t be brought up for reconsideration. But in the exchange with Townsend, I noted how House Bill 334 was brought back up for reconsideration shortly after it was defeated. He didn’t respond to that, but he advised me that when a bill with amendments passes the Senate, it goes back to the House. He also chastised me as this was an example of the vitriol going on with the bill and that allies were treated as enemies. I did apologize to Townsend for my confusion over the procedure.
House Bill 50 went back to the House the next Tuesday where it was defeated, not because of Sokola’s amendment, but because of Townsend’s. After chaos erupted at that point, State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, led the charge for the bill’s defeat because he didn’t feel juniors should be in a position of going against their parent’s wishes, and as they are mostly minors, it could lead to potential legal issues for schools. I was really mad when this happened. Probably too mad. I thought the bill was dead and buried. But then something happened. Spiegelman and others talked and the bill was brought back up for reconsideration. They killed Townsend’s amendment and the majority voted on the bill. It passed the House a second time. It went back to the Senate, and as they were getting ready to vote on it, Senator Townsend made a comment that he felt like the legislators were being put through a high-stakes test. The bill passed, and as everyone knows, it went to Governor Markell who vetoed the bill a few weeks later.
I reached out to Townsend a few times after that. When he announced he was running for Congress, I gave him my support. There was a bill about corporations he sponsored that I felt would lead to social impact bonds in Delaware, but he advised me it was more of an amendment to the original bill that Senator Sokola created the year before. Little odds and ends here and there. In person, I didn’t see Townsend as much. I didn’t spend as much time down at Legislative Hall this year after the veto override for House Bill 50 failed in the House. But when I did, I spent more time in the House than the Senate. I remember one time I was in the House. Townsend came in, looked right at me as I said “Hey Bryan”. He just kept on walking. As if I were some disease. I blew it off as he was busy, but I always kept it tucked away in my head. When Townsend spoke loud and clear for teachers when the PACE group spoke against the DPAS-II Advisory Committee Sub Group, which was convening to change the teacher evaluation system. I sent Townsend a message thanking him for that support.
A month or so later I found out about his actions with the Smarter Balanced bill. I was mad. I was angry. When I saw him during the waning days of the 148th General Assembly in late June, I could barely look at him. I couldn’t figure out who he was. On one side, he would jump to the defense of teachers like there is no tomorrow. But in other areas, he couldn’t get out of his own way. I reached out to one of my friends who supported him. I needed to understand why he would have done that. They couldn’t offer an explanation. The other friend who supported him asked me flat out who my teaser article was about. I told him. He couldn’t offer an explanation either. For five weeks, I stewed on this. Finally, I decided to just go to the source.
I reached out to Senator Townsend on this a month ago. I asked him flat out if this happened. He owned up to it. I let him know how pissed off I was about it. I let him know I wanted to crucify him. But I also explained that I felt he could be a good Delaware representative to send to D.C. I felt he was more qualified, based on his experience, than the other candidates. I let him know I had doubted him before, when he put an amendment on House Bill 50 that almost killed the bill. I also let him know the only reason I hadn’t written about this up to that point was because I was torn over the issue. Aside from the two friends, there was another person who was a big supporter of him. Someone I admire and respect a lot, and that meant something to me.
Townsend explained his side of the story. He let me know it was bedlam after House Bill 334 met defeat. The DOE was coming at them. He said no one thought the bill would be defeated, but many attributed that to his speech against this test prior to the vote. He saw the DOE, Johnson, and O’Mara working Lavelle. He claimed that Lavelle was going to bring it back for reconsideration. He didn’t want Greg Lavelle to be a hero. It was his speech that led to the defeat and he knew it was going to come up again and it would pass. He didn’t want to give Lavelle the satisfaction.
As I saw this explanation, I finally realized what I had been missing and why I couldn’t understand why Townsend had reconsidered the vote prior to my asking him. Bryan Townsend is all about Bryan Townsend. I’m not going to sit here and say others hadn’t told me that before. Some have said that he likes to swoop into situations and be the hero. That is what Townsend did on both House Bill 334 and House Bill 50. He wanted to be the hero. And both times, it had bad consequences. Even Townsend told me it was hard to explain. He felt the bill was created in the dark (because the DOE had already paid for it), and he didn’t want anyone to bring him down in a reconsideration speech. He thanked me for reaching out and not writing something based on assumptions.
After this conversation I sat there, on my couch, for about ten minutes. I stared into space, and all I could think was “This is the guy who could be our next Congressman?” He allowed a bill to come back from defeat, without knowing with 100% certainty that Lavelle or someone else was going to bring it back up. Maybe Lavelle would have, but only Lavelle himself could say that. It may have looked like he would have, but even Lavelle could have felt like he would have become villain #1 if he brought it back. That the Smarter Balanced Assessment was his fault. They could have made promises to him, but no one knows for sure. But Townsend, he makes the decision for him. He brings it back. Not to vote yes on it, which is the only sane reason anyone votes no on a bill they want reconsidered. He brought it back to stroke his ego.
I don’t think anyone would have thought of Greg Lavelle as a hero if he brought the bill back. No one even talked about this and he was public enemy number one to many in the state when they found out he flip-flopped. He became the House Bill 334 flip-flop Senator. I even put up an article about Lavelle after this with pictures of Flipper and flip-flops.
It astonishes me that no one ever brought up the fact that Senator Bryan Townsend was the one who brought back the Smarter Balanced bill from defeat only to have it pass. Think about it like this: if no one else reconsidered the bill there would be no Smarter Balanced Assessment. There would have been no House Bill 50 and the whole opt out thing. I don’t even know if Markell could have procedurally issued an Executive Order like that. Yes, the state would have lost millions and millions of dollars if it died that day, but it’s not like that money was spent on anything other than utter crap to begin with. But here is the kicker. I have to believe Townsend already knew it was paid for.
Back in 2014 during the elections that year, I attended a debate at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover. I asked the candidates if they supported opt out. Jeff Spiegelman, who was running for re-election and had an opponent, answered that he does support this right. I thought that was odd since he voted yes on House Bill 334. I asked him about it after the debate. He told me Mark Murphy already bought the test and he felt they really didn’t have a choice. The House voted on the bill nine days before the Senate voted on it. So the Senate would have known the DOE already bought the test. As well, the DOE were talking about the test a year before this. There were committees meeting to discuss the test items, special education accommodations, and more. The DESS Advisory Committee met about it. It was here. How Townsend could feign surprise that the DOE already bought it until that night of the Senate vote is beyond me.
There are those in Delaware who swear absolute fealty to Senator Bryan Townsend. I am not among them. I see Townsend as a showboat, always playing it up for the camera and making it appear like he is on “our” side. His legislative “turnarounds” have been controversial at best. On the corporate tax bill, Townsend listed himself as a Sponsor on the bill but when it came time for a vote, he wouldn’t vote. It’s almost like he plays it up to both sides. In that situation, he played it up for the corporations and the Progressive Democrats. He also has a distinct advantage because of his last name. It begins with the letter T. In the Delaware Senate, he is the last to cast his vote on legislation. He can see which way the wind is blowing before he votes on a bill.
Townsend supports bills in absentia constantly. He is a swing vote. He can discuss it and sway voters but then vote no or yes to further his appeal to the Progressive voters. Townsend supports Common Core. He supports the Gates Foundation and their disruptive intrusions in public education. He told the Delaware Senate the vote on House Bill 50 made him feel like he was experiencing a “high-stakes test”. Townsend was one of the primary sponsors and advocates for Senate Bill 51 from the 147th General Assembly which created very controversial procedures for new teachers and their credentialing which led to some controversial conversations between Delaware universities and the Delaware DOE. Townsend did fight against making test scores a primary part of teacher evaluations. But the very organization he is a fervent supporter of, Teach For America, is exempt from such evaluations.
My first real communication with Townsend was very odd. He doesn’t normally reach out to me about my articles, but back February of 2015, you would have thought the roof was caving in over one of my posts. He made it a point to reach out to Governor Markell’s office to correct this, but the damage was already done.
Bryan Townsend is an enigma wrapped up in an enigma. The Delaware State Education Association endorsed him for Congress. Even knowing a lot of what I have written already. I just don’t get it. Many teachers think he is the greatest thing since Diane Ravitch, but when you take a very close look at his actions, there are far too many inconsistencies. When I attended the Congressional debate the other night, this was the first time I saw or talked to him since our conversation about his reconsideration of House Bill 334. I was looking for two things from him that night. I submitted a question for the debate beforehand. I asked if he would have supported the override of Governor Markell’s veto if it had come to the Senate. It was never asked, but he did have a chance to talk about opt out and if he still supports it. The question was in regards to civil rights defense of high-stakes testing and his DSEA endorsement. Some civil rights groups (not all, and many that do get really nice donations from the Gates Foundation) are highly opposed to opt out. Townsend knows this. In response to this question, Townsend never once mentioned the words opt out. I also wanted to see if he would bring up the whole House Bill 334 reconsideration and his sole part in it. He didn’t. I didn’t think he would, but I was hoping. If he did, this article wouldn’t be here. It would have meant he publicly owned up to it. Explaining it to me is one thing, but he had a chance. Someone else could have easily brought it up, and he has to know that. Better now than the day before a primary. Instead, what we got was the following:
I’ve tried to bring sanity to the testing conversation, not just the talking points.
This is Bryan Townsend in a nutshell. He wants to cite his accomplishments, what he did. His sanity with the testing conversation? He has done more things to further the testing madness in our schools with his attempts at being a hero than not. He voted yes on a bill that backfired on new teachers by putting them into schools with bad test scores. Why would the DSEA support him when he sponsored a bill allowing for more Teach For America employees in our schools? It’s not like the teacher unions are enamored with the idea of those kind of programs. I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling all the Bryan Townsend love. All of his “we need to get along and work together” statements are symbolic of exactly what is wrong in Delaware. The Delaware Way does not work. At all. Far too much is sacrificed, and when those sacrifices come to the detriment of children, I have to speak up.
I have no doubt many will be upset with this article, including Senator Townsend himself. But one thing finally tipped me over on this whole thought wrestling process concerning this issue. Today, the blogger Kavips, who I think is absolutely brilliant in many respects, endorsed Townsend for Congress. But there were parts of the article that screamed out to me with some disillusion about the real Bryan Townsend:
When we were battling the takeover of Wilmington’s schools, Bryan Townsend was there, at the meeting, not for himself, but to argue for our children.
When there was no hope to stop bad Sokolian policy from being railroaded through the General Assembly, Bryan Townsend was able to add passable amendments that put those policies under review. A review that is right now, turning people’s minds against all the one-sided crap once fed to us about how bad all public schools were.
When there was no hope to stop the horrible Smarter Balanced Assessment from being our measuring device (actually there was and his name was Greg Lavelle but that is a story for another time), Bryan was one of those arguing against it…
In the first statement, yes, Bryan Townsend did attend and speak at many Christina Board of Education meetings when the board was fighting with the Delaware DOE over the priority schools. But he hasn’t spoken at any of their meetings since. One source, who wished to remain anonymous, told me Townsend once said he “wanted to raze Christina”. Who says that about a school district which represents the majority of your voting district?
In the second statement, I’m not sure which bill Kavips is referring to. If it is House Bill 165, the charter school bill that met with tons of controversy in 2014, yes, Townsend had four amendments put on that bill. But I have yet to see how any of those amendments turned people’s minds against this one-sided crap. Townsend did strengthen already existing procedures in the bill for each charter school to produce annual reports and for the DOE to issue an annual report on charter schools. I don’t think the governance training for charter school board members has led to a lot of better decisions from charter schools. If Kavips is talking about House Bill 50, Townsend’s amendment almost killed the bill before it was stricken. His amendment to the recently passed (but still not signed by the Governor) House Bill 399 dealing with teacher evaluations helps a little, but that didn’t stop Sokola from destroying the intent of the bill with his amendment.
But the final statement… that was the one that did it for me. Like I said, I really dig Kavips blog. But he continually forgets three Democrats did the same thing Lavelle did. But I would tend to doubt Kavips knew about Townsend’s involvement in what really happened that day. Kavips knows now. Does he still support the Senator? Does he buy Townsend’s reason for bringing the bill back for reconsideration? I don’t. And here is why. In my opinion, Townsend is just as bad as Sokola, if not worse. With Sokola, you know what you are dealing with. But Townsend pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. I think he is in it to win it. I think he is all about pleasing everyone, but when it starts to get a little hot in the kitchen, when the pressure starts to get to him, he buckles under pressure. Is that someone you want representing Delaware in Washington D.C.? Don’t get me wrong, I think he has a lot of good ideas and he is a very effective speaker. I see that in a lot of politicians. But do you want someone who gives off a grassroots hero of the people who actually has a pretty good track record of messing up legislation? For someone who wants everyone to get along, this is a problem. The Delaware Way doesn’t work in Delaware. It has a much tougher time working in D.C. That’s the big time. I don’t think Townsend is ready for prime-time. He is definitely not the Delaware Prince of Camelot some make him out to be. He is Bryan Townsend.