Guest Editorial – Oh Thom Tillis Where Art Thou?

thom "teachers don't care" Tillis
thom “teachers don’t care” Tillis

Film and literature have that wonderful quality of not only imitating life and giving us a clearer picture of human nature, but they can instruct us on how to better our lives and make wise choices.

I love the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This cinematic tale loosely based on “The Odyssey” is an entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating work of art. I have heard many teachers using it as a tool for class because they see how students could revisit many of the concepts learned American history and American literature. Being an English teacher, I love its use of motifs that permeate great literature, especially the use of the crossroads.

A crossroads represents that a choice is about to be made which can carry everlasting consequences. Often times that choice involves a deal with the devil. For you literary types, think Faust or Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker”. Even Oedipus makes a fateful decision at a crossroads, killing his father and then, well you know.

karl "turd blossom" rove
karl “turd blossom” rove

Back to the movie. The protagonists, led by George Clooney’s character, stop their car at a crossroads and pick up Tommy Johnson, an African-American man standing there with his guitar. Tommy claims that he met the devil at that crossroads the night before and sold his soul in exchange to play “this here guitar real good.” When asked about what the devil looks like, Tommy describes him as a white man with “empty eyes and a big hollow voice.”

This past week while following my Twitter feeds, I was introduced to a virtual crossroads, complete with a loaded choice, a deal with the devil, and the potential to violently alter the future. And it was all because of Karl Rove, the architect of Crossroads GPS (Grassroots Policy Strategies), a non-profit corporation that is an extension of the Crossroads Super PAC.

I find it ironic that the logo for Crossroads GPS is a crossroads that looks just like the one that Tommy Johnson visits in the Coen brothers’ movie. The irony goes further when you see how Steven Law states on the official website that “Crossroads GPS is dedicated to holding Washington’s feet to the fire on the practical issues that will actually improve our country and our lives.” Get it? Devil, fire…?

Rove is currently spending copious amounts of money in states where an incumbent Democratic senator is in a close race with a Republican challenger. In my home state of North Carolina, Crossroads GPS is airing commercials on social media berating Kay Hagan on her education record and praising Thom Tillis on his work to help public schools.  You can watch HERE.

When the devil makes a deal at the crossroads, he usually speaks in half-truths and offers a tempting package to those who are willing to play, and in this case he is asking for North Carolinians to vote for Thom Tillis. But that would be like selling our souls to the devil, because when it comes to public education, Tillis has been no saint.

The ad claims, “While Kay Hagan’s budget shortfalls caused teacher furloughs and painful cuts to salaries, Thom Tillis fought to increase funding every year. He also gave teachers historic pay raises.” The ad then goes into an almost humorous explanation as to why Tillis is the man for us.

The first “fact” brought up is that “Hagan’s budget left behind a $3 billion shortfall” in 2009. It seems ironic that Rove and Tillis are placing that blame on Hagan. Actually, it was because of a great recession caused by unregulated actions on the behalf of Wall Street and other shady finance practices left unchecked. All states, not just North Carolina, were faced with the same shortfall. That’s why Hagan was elected to go to the US Senate – to help reverse the economic trends that were championed by President Bush, who was then advised by Karl Rove.

karl "turd blossom"rove
karl “turd blossom”rove

Next the ad talks about teacher furloughs and teacher pay cuts because of the aforementioned shortfall. Wrong again. Our pay was not really cut; it was frozen. Under “Hagan’s” budget, teachers would have received salaries based on a step-scale schedule that would actually be paying teachers more right now than that historic pay raise Tillis is touting. And the furloughs were because of lack of revenue, mostly due to the fact that under Tillis’s leadership, North Carolina gave massive tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations. And he also led the fight to stop Medicaid expansion in the state which cost us more money.

The half- truths told in the last part of the ad highlight Tillis’s claim that he increased school funding over 1 billion dollars under his leadership. And he is right, but that is not the whole story. While he has “increased” funding, North Carolina has sunk to 48th in the nation on per pupil spending. Seems contradictory, does it not? Well, the fact is that North Carolina’s population is growing and more and more students are in public schools. But that extra billion dollars in funding does not even come close to the amount needed to maintain the level of per pupil spending North Carolina had when Hagan was in the General Assembly.

And then as the final exclamation point, the ad makes reference to that “historic” pay raise.

Art tends to portray real life, whether it is presented in films or in literature. Yet, what makes art most powerful is that it illustrates, predicts, and even warns us of what can happen if we make the wrong choices or poisonous deals. In short, it teaches us. What I have learned is when a man with “empty eyes and a big hollow voice” tells you that there is a “clear choice on education” in the race for Senator in North Carolina and that it is Thom Tillis, then he is selling you a lie.

Remember that 30 seconds of an ad orchestrated by a man with who does not even live in our state cannot begin to disguise what the North Carolina General Assembly under the leadership of Thom Tillis has done to hurt our public schools and our state.

Stuart Egan, NBCT

West Forsyth High School

Clemmons, NC