Monday, May 12, 2008

Personal Aside: Vallas Disappoints but Maybe That’s Because He’s Biding his Time. But If He Is to Run, He’d Better Think if Over Long and Hard.


On my radio show last night, Paul Vallas…a friend whom I admire very much…did not exactly burn up the turf and was a grey shadow of the commanding, oracular speaker he was at the City Club April 28. Jeff Berkowitz, my co-panelist, came meticulously prepared as usual. I had a tough time getting Vallas to even concede that he would consider running for governor…something he volunteered almost off-the-bat at the City Club. Then, following up, I got him to acknowledge that vouchers would be high on his list if he were to run…but he circumnavigated a bit talking about charter schools which are not all that controversial. Jeff and I got him finally to endorse vouchers and once he got warmed up he stated as he had earlier before the City Club that the poor deserved educational choice as much—if not more—than the wealthy.

In all fairness, he has a job under contract as superintendent of the entire Louisiana Recovery school system (I had thought it was just New Orleans) and as such must not only honor the contract but avoid being dragged into political speculation. However at the City Club he did the beckoning and teasing about running for governor. Maybe he got some heat back home following his speech here. But he was not the decisive guy on issues on the radio that he had been at the City Club. In fact, he was rather needlessly verbose without getting to the point until we pushed him.

I thought Jeff made a good point when he cited the fact that when Vallas ran in 2002 he was not head-on for vouchers…although he denied it. Since he was on my show a number of times in that period, I have the same recollection as apparently Jeff does, that he was less firm in supporting them—although last night he insisted he has always been for them. I don’t have the transcript (maybe Jeff does since he interviewed him on his TV show) but I have the same feeling as Jeff that he was very light on the issue.

Both of us…and a very good interrogator from the audience…pointed out the obvious since he now is firmly for vouchers: that the Democratic party is unalterably opposed to them because of the teachers’ unions. I also pointed out to him that the Democratic party lists are pretty full up for governor; Lisa Madigan, Dan Hynes, Pat Quinn, Alexi Giannoulias and as he would have to fight a lot of heavyweights for the nomination, perhaps the Republican side would be advantageous for him: if. If, running as a Republican would free him to announce what he might truly think. He ducked that one so stringently that as of this writing I would make two observations:

1. While after the City Club speech it seemed almost a 50-50 bet that Vallas will be running for governor in 2010, I think this has diminished drastically to a 25% chance and 75% that he will not run at all.

2. His City Club speech seemed to invite the idea that he could welcome being considered to run as a Republican with the prospect possibly 30% that he would entertain the idea, I now lower this expectation to under 15%.

In essence, I think the hope that Paul Vallas would run for a Democrat or as a Republican…is very slight. But he is a good man and a good friend and I wish him well.

On the all-important issue of his conquering his reluctance to fly…which played a big role in causing him to lose in 2002 because he did not spend the needed time downstate…he assured me that this has abated to the extent that he can accept short trips: Chicago to Springfield and hops around the state. If that’s the case, this is a major breakthrough.

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