Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts could vote against Betsy DeVos for education secretary — but he owes her
Allies of public education are beating the bushes for one more GOP U.S. senator willing to stand up for kids and families and vote against confirming mega donor Betsy DeVos as the nation’s education secretary.
Just one gutsy senator is all it would take. Democrats are united in opposition to DeVos, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, have already said they would honor the wishes of constituents and deny President Donald Trump his most preposterous nomination — a person whose lifetime crusade has been to break down public school systems and turn the job of educating children over to private interests.
So how about you, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri? Or maybe you over there in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts and Sen. Jerry Moran? Kansans like to brag about their great tradition of supporting public schools — there’s never been an easier opportunity to back that up.
The confirmation vote on DeVos is expected on Monday, which leaves the weekend for last-minute appeals. But Blunt, Roberts and Moran aren’t exactly known for political courage or independence.
And then there’s the money trail.
DeVos has money — lots of it — by way of her husband’s family. Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., founded Amway and bought the Orlando Magic basketball team. He is a longtime supporter of right-wing causes, so Betsy fit right in when she married Richard DeVos Jr.
Members of the DeVos clan give plenty of money to individual candidates. They’ve given Blunt more than $35,000.
A political action committee associated with Amway and the DeVos family gave Roberts $1,000 in 2008, according to records. That comes across as underwhelming, but in fact it represents only a sliver of the help that Roberts has received from the DeVos family.
Between 2014 and 2016, the DeVos family contributed $2 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund. Records show the fund spent $17,507 to support Roberts when he was in an unexpectedly tough race against independent candidate Greg Orman in 2014. And that’s not all. The fund spent a whopping $3 million to directly oppose Orman. So if the Freedom Partners Action Fund owes the DeVos family big time, so does Roberts. Perhaps that is why he says he is “confident she [ DeVos ] is the right person for the job,” and voted to approve her nomination as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
DeVos never attended public school, has never supported them, and in hearings has displayed a remarkable ignorance about what public education is all about. She refuses to say whether charter school and other “choice” schools should be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. Contrary to what Roberts says, she is not the right person for the job.
Politicians always deny that campaign contributions influence their votes. Perhaps one more Republican senator will step up and mean it for once. But don’t hold your breath for Blunt or Roberts.