When Diane Ravitch changed her mind about education reform, she became one of the leading critics of a movement that dominates American policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held positions at the pro-school-reform movement Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was a member of the Koret Task Force at Stanford's Hoover Institution, which focuses on school choice and "accountability." But in 2009, Ravitch left both positions and wrote a book announcing her move to the other side of the debate.
In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding.
Ask any kid who's played Monopoly—if the banker isn't a fair one, the whole outcome of the game can change. That can lead to two different conclusions: either the kids come up with a fair set of rules or everyone fights to be banker the next game.
When it comes to elections, partisans have long struggled with a similar problem: Who should set the rules governing elections? Rather than investing in a nonpartisan solution, for the most part, the parties have fought to be the banker—or in this case, the secretary of state. In 33 states, an elected, partisan secretary of state is responsible for running elections. In eight others, the chief election official is appointed by a partisan elected official.
Republicans already dominate governors' mansions around the country. Twenty-nine states have GOP governors, thanks largely to 2010, when the party took 11 governorships away from the Democrats. Given those numbers, it might not seem like there's much left for Democrats to defend. But, as it happens, this Democrats must play defense in all but three of this year's gubernatorial elections.
Of the 11 states electing governors this year, eight currently have Democrats doing the job. (That's Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.) A Stateline report offers a handy rundown. Many of the races will be competitive, and with a serious disadvantage in fundraising, Democrats face an uphill battle to simply hold their ground.