Tuesday night at the Farm Bureau political forum and dinner, my incumbent opponent actually said this: "I will fight for teachers." Really. A declarative sentence.
I'm willing to bet those words have never before come out of his mouth. I've certainly never heard anything close to that from him. I welcome him to the fight.
But it's quite the evolution.
A couple days before the August 30 primary, Mr. Berryman dismissed and belittled as "disgruntled" the many, many, many dedicated and talented teachers who talk to me. And even more recently, he defended the Florida DoE's purge of full-time teachers in favor of subs at the Stigmatized 5 schools. At Kathleen Middle, for instance, DoE forced removal of 9 of 11 English/Language Arts teachers with no one lined up to replace them. This was fine with Mr. Berryman. So fine that he hasn't bothered to show up to any community support meetings for those schools. Those teachers just need to "get themselves some professional development," he said.
Perhaps, like the Grinch, Mr. Berryman had a sincere experience in the last couple weeks that made his heart grow three sizes. If so, I hope it gives him the strength of 10 Berrymans, plus two, in fighting for teachers.
But I suspect the explanation is less Seussian:
Mr. Berryman was responding to me pointing out to the Farm Bureau crowd how many of my ideas and themes he is claiming as his own in the waning days of the campaign. Indeed, he was essentially trying to convince the crowd he's a better version of me. People can decide that on their own. But let's be clear: I'm not trying to convince anybody I'm a better version of him.
This is how change happens through politics.
Better ideas and greater energy create consensus that drives policy. Together, folks, we have shifted the political and moral ground in the fight for education in this county. Mr. Berryman has become convinced, in his own words, that fighting for teachers is an important thing. It's become in his political interest to say that publicly.
And he's not the only one. A sitting Polk legislator just sent out a mailer focused entirely on education with a pointed attack on education "bureaucrats." I choose to believe she's talking about the bureaucrats at the state DoE. That's who she oversees and enables. For once, this mailer came with no attack on teachers or boasts about fraudulent accountability. Indeed, the word "accountability" or "test" was nowhere to be found. This is a new tone and focus for this state Legislature. I'm telling you: we can make #DoEreform in 2018 a reality if we keep up the pressure.
Mindset drives policy
When people say to me, "you're only one of seven," they're right.
That's why I'm always happy for my opponent -- or anybody else -- to steal my ideas and themes. It takes a new mindset to drive policy reform. I ran to change the mindset of public education in Polk County and Florida -- to put humanity for students, respect for teachers, and a high quality classroom experience for both back at the heart of education thinking.
Together, we're making that happen. Teachers are speaking up bravely and in detail about their realities. And they're forcing people like Mr. Berryman to finally take notice. So we are winning the battle for ideas in a rout. This campaign, and the issues and people driving it, will have long-term impact on how we look at education in this county.
A final push for resources
That doesn't mean we'll win the election. That's a question of votes. And there are many uncertainties when approaching an electorate of 275,000 + people in a highly unpredictable presidential year.
We're going to win big with the people who have followed this race closely. I have no doubts about that. Neither does Mr. Berryman. That's why he's using my language and touting my issues and talking about change, as if he's not the incumbent. It's a pretty smart -- if not terribly honest -- tactic. Fool the electorate.
You can help us fight that tactic by continuing to provide the resources we need to reach as many different people -- in as many different forms of communication -- as we can. We've had very, very effective fundraising since the primary. But every dollar we raise helps us reach another batch of voters who may not have heard about us.
You can contribute here. This next week is really the last chance to make a major financial difference.
At the same time, you can help yourselves, especially if you're a teacher.
Hunt Berryman is now on record. Test him.
If he's willing to fight for you, teachers, he should be willing to listen to you and answer like I do. He should be willing to get rid of the labor lawyers trying to stiff you. He should restart negotiations like human beings. Ask him to commit to fighting DoE on your behalf. He's been fighting you on their behalf his entire term.
Here's his School Board email address -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Email him, thank him for his newfound commitment to fighting for teachers, and tell him what you want him to do. You know I listen and act. See if he will. Or if he's just a Grinch trying to steal the election.