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Truth Squad: Tonya Schuitmaker’s Common Core hypocrisy in AG race

In the GOP race to succeed Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt is facing two-term state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton. Among other disputes, they are jousting over Common Core, the law adopted by Michigan and many other states in 2010 to describe the skills students are to master each year in subjects like math and science.

Education reform groups hail Common Core for making clear what skills students need to master in each grade to become career or college ready after graduation. Critics decry the standards as government overreach into local schools.

In a campaign video, Schuitmaker accuses Leonard of not doing enough in the Legislature to get rid of it; for being, in her words, “all hat and no cattle.”

It’s a curious charge, given that it was Schuitmaker (not Leonard) who had backed legislation that funded Common Core in 2013. We find her claim false.

The claim

In a YouTube video posted in February, Schuitmaker questions Leonard’s conservative bona fides on Common Core.

“Tom Leonard is running for attorney general, bragging about his fight against Common Core. What has he done? When final passage of Common Core came before the House, Rep. Leonard let it pass by voice vote. He did not put up a fight, never even demanded a roll call vote.

“So did Rep. Leonard co-sponsor the 2013 Common Core ban? No. The 2015 ban? No. How about the 2016 Common Core repeal? No. Has Speaker Leonard brought the 2017 Common Core repeal bill to the floor? No. Beyond casting a no vote on the House initial Common Core resolution and telling the grassroots he’s fighting hard and making a campaign video, it does not appear Speaker Leonard has done much. Is Speaker Leonard all hat and no cattle?”

The facts

In 2013, Common Core became a cultural and political flashpoint in Michigan, as conservative Republicans and fired-up Tea Party activists lashed out against what they saw as a dire threat to local control of education. Unable to get a bill through to block Common Core, then-GOP state Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills tucked a provision into a budget conference committee blocking the Michigan Department of Education from funding Common Core.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 26, 2013, the state House by a vote of 85 to 21  approved funding to implement Common Core. Leonard voted against it.

A modified version of the funding bill was approved by a House voice vote that October, one week after similar passage in the Senate. Republican leadership evidently turned to voice votes to shield legislators from political blowback for supporting Common Core funding, since individual votes were not recorded.

And it was Schuitmaker, as Senate pro tempore, who presided over the voice vote and gaveled in the funding law’s passage.

In a report at the time, Lansing political news site MIRS said it reached out to all 26 GOP state Senators in office then and asked how they would have voted had a roll call vote been taken. Five Republicans, including Schuitmaker, told MIRS they would have voted “yes.”

We need higher standards to compete on a world stage,” Schuitmaker told a local newspaper at the time, in a discussion about Common Core.

In the past few years, several Republican-led bills have been introduced in the state House and Senate to block Common Core. None made it out of their respective chamber. Leonard did not co-sponsor any of these measures.

For his part, Leonard says he’s always opposed Common Core – unlike his opponent.

“I am the only attorney general candidate who has opposed Common Core since day one. Foundational issues like local control and parental choice have been primary concerns of mine from the beginning, not just when they became politically expedient,” he states on his website.

In a campaign web video, he states: “The federal government has no business dictating our children’s education…I strongly oppose Common Core.” It’s a statement that might serve as its own Truth Squad, since it misleadingly implies that Washington, not individual states, initially passed the laws that implemented Common Core state standards.

Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for Leonard, told Truth Squad Leonard rarely cosponsored bills in the 2015-2016 term; that as chairman of the Insurance Committee, he “only sponsored bills relating to his personal work on mental health, elder abuse and insurance code reforms.”

D'Assandro also shared an email that Leonard, elected House speaker in January 2017, sent the following month to party activists, which included the statement: “We’ve got to repeal Common Core.”

The spokesman added that House speakers, by tradition, “rarely sponsor or co-sponsor policy bills.”

Truth Squad also reached out to Rep. Gary Glenn, sponsor of the 2017 anti-Common Core bill, whose spokesman stated: “Speaker Leonard strongly supports Representative Glenn’s efforts to repeal Common Core.” That measure remains in committee.

The Rating: False  

Schuitmaker’s claim that Leonard is “all hat and no cattle” falls short on the merits, in addition to being galling in its hypocrisy.

Her campaign video calls attention to the most relevant vote on the matter – legislation in 2013 to fund Common Core.

Leonard voted against it in the House in its original version. Schuitmaker’s ad fails to mention that she expressed support for a similar measure that passed in the Senate, and that she herself gaveled it in the funding bill’s passage.

Truth Squad reached out numerous times to a campaign spokesperson for Schuitmaker regarding her past support for Common Core but did not hear back, making it impossible for the public to hear her justification for the attack. 

The fact that Leonard did not co-sponsor bills blocking Common Core does not prove he did nothing to stop it. Leonard continues to oppose Common Core.

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