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VOL. 11 | NO. 17 | Saturday, April 28, 2018

Editorial: GOP Governor Contenders Botched Pre-K Opposition

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When three of the four major Republican contenders for Tennessee governor came to Memphis recently and each said without hesitation they oppose universal prekindergarten, it got the attention of those at the forum.

The audience at the Greater Memphis Chamber event included many of those who have been working for several years toward the goal of universal pre-K in Shelby County.

That work has included meeting the very challenges Diane Black, Randy Boyd and Bill Lee pointed to in their opposition – studies showing prekindergarten in and of itself, especially when isolated, doesn’t necessarily stick with students as they move to kindergarten and beyond.

Those citizens in the audience – Republicans, Democrats and independents – have grappled with the challenge of making pre-K relevant and aligned with K-3 education.

That’s what the larger amount of private and philanthropic funding for the local pre-K effort will pay for.

Some of the candidates’ local supporters excused the opposition to something Memphis needs by saying the views presented at the forum were for the benefit of the conservative base in other parts of Tennessee, watching via a statewide broadcast. Whichever Republican wins the August primary, they add, will present a more moderate view on pre-K in the lead-up to the November general election.

If Black, Boyd and Lee were sincere in their positions – as each seemed to be – it betrays an ignorance of a bipartisan priority and need right here and right now.

And if any or all three weren’t sincere, they need to know candidates can’t give Shelby County a wink and be on their merry way.

Words matter, no matter where you say them.

It also justifies an increase in our already considerable skepticism about any contender not from the area – especially ones who think all they need to do to garner local votes is show up at a festival or two, mention barbecue, and emphasize they want to see the Memphis Regional Megasite completed. A reminder: The megasite isn’t even in a county bordering Shelby County, much less in Memphis.

Candidates, if you are with us privately but can’t stand with us publicly, you’re worse than of no use to us. We can’t even talk about legitimate differences because your goal is to please all the people all the time.

The political adage is that the way to please everyone is to have each group you are trying to court line up to come in the room separately. The time is long overdue for us to stay in the room when politicians seeking statewide office want to say different things in different parts of the state.

Then again, maybe the figurative room doesn’t even matter if the message candidates are spreading here isn’t aimed at the crowd sitting in front of them.

Voters and political operatives who live here weigh carefully whose camp they will join when no Memphian is in a race. The struggle is part faith and part hope, and too often the result is part betrayal.

It’s time for campaigns to fit our concerns instead of us fitting in with the rest of the state.

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