Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

GOP indignation is a sham

The Pasco Republican Party called it a whitewash. Snow job would be more accurate.

The bluster and indignation from the GOP about the voter-registration/civics lesson-turned-partisan-politicking at Gulf High School appeared genuine at the outset. Now, it looks like a sham. This is straight political theater and an attempt to bolster its party's presidential nominee while repeating allegations — that fell apart under closer scrutiny — aimed at the Democratic Party and the president's re-election campaign.

To recap the original accounts of this story: Organizing for America comes to Gulf High School on Sept. 12 for voter registration, but instead presents a partisan pro-President Obama lesson to 12th-grade students. Teacher offers equal time to Republican state committeeman Bill Bunting for opposing views, but is stymied by administration and the School Board. Bunting complains to no avail, but gets national television exposure from Fox News. Local Republican party vice chairman and attorney James Mathieu does his own snooping and calls for a criminal investigation, repeating the original story that Organizing for America volunteers misrepresented themselves as part of the Pasco Supervisor of Elections Office. In a letter to the Times published Wednesday, Mathieu calls the inaction by the School Board and law enforcement authorities a whitewash.

Whew. Got all that?

Unfortunately, much of it is a crock. The school district acknowledges the partisan presentation violated its own policies. But statements from those involved, contained in the school district's investigative report, refute the original versions of the events that portrayed pro-Obama speakers as lying to gain access to school children.

Here's the time line:

In late August, while arranging the voter registration, Gulf High teacher Jennifer Dixon asked Organizing for America associate Allison Bryan if she was affiliated with the Supervisor of Elections Office. Bryan said she was with a state-authorized third-party voter registration organization, showed Dixon a voter registration form pre-printed with Organizing for America on the bottom and said she was paid by the Florida Democratic Party and supporting the re-election of President Obama. Dixon, in Sept. 6 emails to her bosses, indicated she planned to have guest speakers affiliated with the Obama campaign in her class, but the presentation would be non-partisan.

So much for allegations that the teacher/school didn't know with whom they were dealing. Other details:

• Dixon said her Gulf High department head, Claudia Alwood, had okayed the visit by Bryan and former teacher Sandra Mullins to the classroom, but earlier had "casually suggested that Ms. Dixon also contact the Republican Party in case a problem occurred with the presentation.'' Alwood denies telling the teacher to call the GOP.

• Dixon did telephone the local Republican Party headquarters and received a phone message back on Sept. 11 urging her to contact Bunting as soon as possible to arrange a time from him to speak to her class.

So, how is it that teacher Dixon already was arranging a rebuttal when Organizing for America hadn't been to her class yet and she had told her bosses the speech would be non-partisan?

• Dixon met Mullins at the front office on Sept. 12, but the two offer disparate versions of the conversation. Dixon told the district she reminded Mullins the talk must be non-partisan and Mullins confirmed her objectivity.

Mullins said Dixon told her of "a change in plans and that the Republican Party would be coming in to speak to Ms. Dixon's classes at a later date.'' Mullins said Dixon "encouraged her to present the Democratic point of view.''

Mullins said she would do as requested and later pointed out to the district she had been involved with voter registration tables at Fivay and Hudson high schools without incident and "she would have no reason to deviate from her previous non-partisan approach unless asked to do so.''

If nothing else, this is a lesson plan gone awry, but it shouldn't escape attention that two different people — Mullins, the volunteer, and Alwood, the department head — contradict the teacher's version of their conversations.

After the original story broke, Organizing for America expressed remorse for Mullins' partisan speech. Turns out, she may be the one owed an apology.

Just don't expect it from the GOP.

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