Florida could 'go down in history'
A lot of people got a jolt when the "65 percent solution" rose from the dead last spring. And Patrick Byrne, the Utah businessman who once championed the idea, says he was one of them. "I didn't know anyone was still looking at this," Byrne told The Gradebook in a telephone interview yesterday.
Byrne said he read about it in the newspapers just like everyone else, after the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission rolled it into Amendment 9, the same proposed constitutional amendment that would insulate vouchers from future legal challenges. "I know it must be natural for everyone to assume I must have been out there (in Florida)," Byrne said. But "nobody contacted me, nobody talked to me about it."
Byrne, founder and CEO of Overstock.com, became the national face for the 65 percent solution - a plan to force schools to spend more money in the classrooms - when it was the flavor of the month in 2005 and 2006. He even came to Florida to try to convince the Legislature to join the crusade. But after getting stuck with arrows from left, right and center, 65 percent was all but buried under a tombstone that said, "Gimmick."
But then, out of the blue, there it was, on Gov. Crist's 2008 legislative wish list and on the table before the TBRC. Byrne said he never had contact with the governor or his people, or any members of the TBRC. He said he hasn’t had anything to do with Florida politics since his effort in early 2006.
But don't be surprised to see his name surface in coming months.
Last fall, Byrne sunk millions of dollars of his own money into an unsuccessful attempt to get universal vouchers in Utah. And just last week, he was elected co-chair of the passionately pro-voucher Friedman Foundation.
Byrne said he won't be playing a "significant" financial role in the Florida campaign, but that he and the Friedman Foundation will support the campaign "intellectually." "Florida has the chance to absolutely to go down in history, to make history, by taking this step," he said. But, he added, "I think it's best if the citizens of Florida work this out amongst themselves."
As for commingling vouchers and 65 percent in the same amendment – a fusion even some pro-voucher wonks don’t like – Byrne said he doesn’t see an issue: "If all they're doing is unwinding, within the 65 percent ballot … some tortured legal reasoning by the Florida Supreme Court, I don't think that's problematic."