Robin Wright Jones, running against Rodney Hubbard for the open state senate seat in district five, calls herself a 100 percent progressive. She backs that statement up by noting that ProVote gives her 100 percent on her voting record on progressive issues (as opposed to Hubbard’s 44 percent).
District five runs along the Mississippi River from the Chain of Rocks bridge to the River Des Peres and to the west, zig zags between Grand and Kingshighway. The population is 58 percent African-American, and many of the residents–of both races–are poor. Those neighborhoods, she feels, need progressive representation in the legislature.
One of the issues Robin is most passionate about is the fate of the troubled city school district. She told me, when I interviewed her by phone on Monday morning, that she sees the state takeover of city schools as part of the bigger picture of Republican attack, via No Child Left Behind, on this country’s public schools. (If that seems like a grandiose claim to you, read my posting “Of All the Nerve”. No Child Left Behind is aimed straight at the destruction of public education.)
Robin’s background explains her passion for public education. First, she’s a former teacher herself. Second, as a single parent, she raised two boys in North St. Louis, back in the eighties when the crime rate there was at its highest. She sent her sons to the public schools, to the Academy of Math and Science, a magnet school, where they excelled. They were each in the top five in their class, scholar-athletes who are now college graduates with good jobs.
So Robin knows and believes that good things can and still do happen in the city schools, and it weighs on her to see them underfunded and turned over to an appointed school board that has no plans to improve them. She says that when she has talked to Rick Sullivan, the head of the appointed board–well, maybe he’s the appointed head. Blunt hasn’t allowed the senate to vote to confirm him, so legal problems are likely brewing over any decisions he makes–but anyway, when she’s talked to Sullivan, he’s all about the takeover with nothing to say about how to improve the schools. The elected board, on the other hand, is headed by Peter Downs, a parent in the district who is committed to improving the schools. Wright Jones would much prefer to see the elected board in charge.
In any case, she opposes tuition tax credits for private schools and disapproves of her opponent, Rodney Hubbard, for accepting $30,000 from Rex Sinquefield [pictured in an ad at left]. She predicts that taking that path will harm not only city schools but all Missouri schools in the long run.
The schools will not make headway, though, Robin knows, without a variety of parallel improvements. Her background as a public housing administrator has made her sensitive to the ways that each problem of the poor exacerbates all the others. Until decent jobs help stabilize families–jobs that have disappeared as our government has allowed outsourcing–kids won’t have their basic needs met. In that environment, they’re not educable.
New York mayor Ed Koch once said that a city must have viable schools, firemen, and police forces. You need all three or you don’t have a city. Robin points to the troubles with all three in St. Louis–state takeover of the schools, the demotion of fire chief Sherman George and the vote of no confidence in police chief Mokwa.
What then, I asked, should be done to help the city deal with its problems? Wright Jones says that, for the time being, Democrats can only fight a holding action. The situation in the city cannot significantly improve until we have a Democratic legislature and governor.