by Paul Goldman
Twenty five years ago, the Virginia Democratic Party establishment was convinced Virginians were too prejudiced to give an African-American a fair chance at statewide office. I had the honor of being the campaign manager of the multi-racial campaign that helped Doug Wilder make history, and give Virginians a chance to show they would judge a person on merit, not skin color. I trusted the people to be fair as did the candidate and the campaign. To their credit, the party establishment eventually realized they had underestimated the people, although it wasn’t a wholly voluntary change.
Now, in 2010, does the party establishment again risk misreading the values of our citizens, including grass roots Democrats, on an important issue with serious racial ramifications?
President Obama; Senator Jim Webb and many of his colleagues; the United Negro College Fund; several other top education groups; the Florida Attorney General; along with top national investigative reporters, all have collectively pointed to evidence indicating the highly controversial for-profit college industry is ripping-off many students, including poor African-Americans, veterans, indeed black, white and Latino working class students as well.
The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations to crack down on the documented abuse. Aligned against them are highly paid, politically well-connected lobbyists, including Virginia Democrat Harris Miller and the legislative director of his lobbying organization, Brian Moran. That’s right, the same Brian Moran who is the establishment’s choice to be the next State Party Chair. Brian believes, as do numerous members of Congress, that the for-profit higher education industry has received a bad rap, and is being victimized due to the actions of a few “bad actors.”
How Brian chooses to make his living is not my business. But since he and his backers want him to be the next State Democratic Party Chair, that is my business- and that of anyone with my record of fighting for change in Virginia. This is demonstrated by the following contents of a letter from the United Negro College Fund to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in support of the Obama Administration’s effort to crack down on widespread abuses victimizing African-Americans:
It is the abuse that…ruins lives and destabilizes communities that we oppose. We encourage other organizations to join us in taking proactive steps to protect student loan borrowers from incurring woefully onerous debt burdens associated with enrolling in…programs that do not lead to gainful employment.
Many minority students are among those who are lured into incurring huge amounts of student loan debt for programs that fail to provide adequate training.
As the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, there has to be one standard, not a double-standard.
Let me ask you this question: What would Virginia Democrats be saying if Republican Eric Cantor’s brother was helping to lead this industry against President Obama, the United Negro College Fund, veterans and others, while at the same time being the choice of the GOP establishment to head the Virginia Republican Party? In that case, many Democrats undoubtedly would be pointing to for-profit colleges as the “payday lenders of higher education”, saying this was the higher education version of the sub-prime lending industry (in part because Sallie Mae is highly implicated in this for-profit education mess, as others have noted). Democrats would be lambasting Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican Party and their allies 24/7.
This is not idle speculation. In fact, Congressional Democrats and others have been blaming the Bush Administration for years for failing to enforce government oversight of this industry!
I don’t question Brian’s sincerity on the subject; we simply have a difference of opinion. And again, I am not questioning how Brian Moran makes a living. But he wants to be the spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, which means he will be identified as the Virginia Democratic Party Chairman when he advocates for the for-profit education industry. In that eventuality, Virginia Democrats should not be surprised if the state and national media, including the Washington Post — whose publisher, closely connected to the for-profit education industry itself – agrees with Brian — start asking some tough questions that are not going to go away.
Why? Because the media has read the “Debt without a Diploma” report released by Senator Tom Harkin’s committee last month. Of the students tracked for the report, 57% left school in two years without a diploma! Yet 500% more had borrowed money to attend these schools than similar students at community colleges.
Of the for-profit companies studied for this same report, they reaped upwards of $3 billion in profits yet they “lost” nearly 2 million students in the past three years. According to the report, “all will leave with substantial debt” and without acquiring the skills they were promised.
Where did all these “profits” that have made the for-profit schools the darlings of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street come from? You and me – the American taxpayer. In fact, according to Senator Harkin, of the schools studied, nearly 90% of their revenue comes from federal tax dollars.
To paraphrase country singer Lorrie Morgan: What part of SCANDAL don’t you understand?
The General Accounting Office of the Obama Administration did a random undercover investigation into for-profit schools in 6 states and DC, a total of 15 schools. Findings: 100% of the for-profit schools were found to engage in some form of consumer fraud – based on Virginia law as I read it – in order to entice the GAO undercover agents to enroll in these “debt without a diploma” mills.
Let me ask: Has the Virginia Democratic Party leadership even bothered to consider what it is going to say when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli follows the lead of the Florida AG and decides to investigate, or is forced to investigate, whether for-profit schools in Virginia are violating the law in pressuring minorities and veterans to go to these “debt without a diploma” mills?
This is gut-check time for Virginia Democrats. It is easy to give your Fourth of July speeches, and talk about how you would have done this or that in the past if only given the chance or been around. Principles are easy to have when there are no hard choices to make.
When Wilder dared challenge the color line in state politics, I got the job because no one else who looked like me and who knew how to run a campaign would take it, the party establishment having made it clear what the price would be if you crossed them. But equal rights for minorities, as with other groups suffering from discrimination, can never be held hostage to such political calculations, at least that is what I was taught.
I have had so many people over the years tell me that they wish they had been old enough or whatever to have been there when history was being made. Ironically, now you are, for once again the Democratic Party has to make a statement about who they are, and what they stand for, with the whole state watching.