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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Is Michelle Rhee becoming a Republican darling?

By Mike DeBonis


In her post-D.C. Public Schools career, former Chancellor Michelle Rhee has had no trouble whatsoever attracting attention to her new education reform ventures. And she's been getting the most attention from prominent elected Republicans.

Since leaving DCPS, Rhee has joined the transition team of new Florida Gov. Rick Scott (pictured) and has since agreed to continue on as an "informal adviser" to his administration. On Tuesday, she appeared at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's State of the State address.

"No one in America has been more clear that we must change our public education system," Christie said from the podium. "Michelle, thanks for coming today, and I want you to count New Jersey among those who are finally putting our students first."

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who just left office and is expected to contend for the Republican presidential nomination, has long been a Rhee fan. Yesterday at the National Press Club, he said this, according to MSNBC: "Everyone's waiting for Superman. We had a Superwoman. And her name was Michelle Rhee."

Meanwhile, Rhee's message has been embraced by the favorite media outlets of the conservative movement. She rolled out her policy platform in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and made an appearance on Fox News Channel (in addition to appearances on the Today Show and other less partisan forums). Today, a post on the Heritage Foundation's blog calls on "opponents of sensible education reforms to put the needs of children before the demands of special interests--as Rhee's aptly named group suggests."

It's not hard to explain the GOP's embrace: Rhee's policy agenda has long been heavy on attacking the role of teacher unions in blocking the sorts of reforms she believes are most effective -- eliminating teacher "tenure," ending seniority-based teacher transfers, evaluating teachers by their students' test scores, etc. Democrats, with their closer ties to national unions, tread more lightly around those issues in a way that the GOP does not.

But the question for Rhee is to what extent she wants her nascent national brand to get caught up in partisan politics, especially going into a presidential election year.

Kevin Chavous, a Democrat and former D.C. Council member who is active in national education reform circles, said he's noticed that Rhee's early support has tilted Republican. "But I do think there's a growing number of Democrats who are talking about some of those same issues. My sense is she'll be working with some of those folks as well."

To be perfectly clear: Rhee can boast all sorts of Democratic bona fides. She was hired by Adrian Fenty, a Democrat. Rhee's Web site boasts endorsements from Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both Democrats. President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, is an unabashed fan. Rhee's fiance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, is a Democrat. And Rhee herself is a registered Democratic voter in the District and once referred to herself as a "card-carrying Democrat."

But Rhee has never been shy about praising Republicans -- favoring John McCain's education platform over Obama's, for instance -- and her reform ideas thus far have been mostly been embraced by only a subset of Democrats, those who have had roles dealing with dysfunctional big-city school systems. Her challenge with StudentsFirst will be broadening her appeal to national Democrats, a challenge given her sharp anti-union rhetoric.

"It's got to be viewed as bipartisan," said Chavous, chairman of the board of Democrats for Education Reform. "We have to make sure we go the extra mile to do this on both sides of the aisle."

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Mike DeBonis  | January 14, 2011; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee, The District  
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...and does anyone care?

Posted by: blankspace | January 14, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

If people only took their time to check her record. The will see that it is long on Rhetoric and short on actual results.

She is the Kim K and Sarah Palin of education.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | January 14, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Sure, why not? Punishment freaks like Rhee have always been darlings of the GOP. Too bad Fenty couldn't figure that out. He might still be Mayor.

Posted by: alarson1 | January 14, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

She should be everyones Darling for putting kids first. When their really educated they'll want to get rid of Obamacare and the death panels (I'm sure he'll reintroduce again) if we haven't by that time.

Song called teapartiers I can’t hear you at

Here’s a verse

Doctors are retiring earlier but we’re getting 17000 new IRS
This is how Obama creates health care jobs I guess
For 234 years this country’s been God’s blessing.
Now he’s following Cloward and Piven’s to bankrupt the country I’m guessing
If Obamacare gives Grandma and Grandpa a scare
Think how when their rationed and die earlier we’ll save on healthcare

Hey guys if you fought at Iwo or the Chosen
when they stop giving your wife her meds and her last breath comes over her face
you’ll find comfort knowing Nancy’d gladly take her place.

Posted by: JoeAstroturf | January 14, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Why are we still talking about her? Anyone who hangs around Tim Scott will probably soon be indicted. That will be a story when it happens.

Posted by: PepperDr | January 14, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse

She is headed in the right direction and I hope she keeps on going and stops the wasteful spending going on that does not educate our children but lines pockets of all sorts of administrators. One of the biggest wastes is the Race to the top programs and all the outsiders that get billions. We need our children educated and if a program works - give it to them and don't make the districts pay more for it.

Posted by: nomoredebt | January 14, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Why so much students vs teachers debate? It seems obvious that smaller classroom size, safe working conditions and stimulating learning environment is good for both teachers and students. We should support teacher unions and also come up with ideas to improve education.

Posted by: jeff7500 | January 14, 2011 10:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe Rhee is either a Democrat or a Republican. She is an opportunist with a good PR person.

Posted by: peterdc | January 14, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

"Meanwhile, Rhee's message has been embraced by the favorite media outlets of the conservative movement."

Like WaPo?

"Democrats, with their closer ties to national unions, tread more lightly around those issues in a way that the GOP does not."

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Understatement alarm!

Posted by: IncredulousAsEver | January 14, 2011 11:21 PM | Report abuse

I think her five minutes of fame are over.

The interesting part of her leaving DC is that her prejudices are clearly revealed in her new public persona. She is a Republican, in her virulent anti-labor stance, as are the so-called Democrats for Education Reform.

She represents the corporate take-over of education. She hasn't a chance, and neither do the corporations.

Posted by: thisone | January 14, 2011 11:28 PM | Report abuse

I look forward to the day when children are taught by touch screen IMacs so you can't blame teachers.

Posted by: WmLaney | January 15, 2011 2:58 AM | Report abuse

"to put the needs of children before the demands of special interests"......She showed how important the needs of the kids are when she resigned as soon as it was clear Fenty would lose the election. She actually appears to be more anti-labor than pro-education. Good match, her and the Medicade Fraudster Scott. With most of the population of Floriduh elderly and medicated, they should be able to do whatever they want

Posted by: tagtron | January 15, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

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