• David M. Rubin

ELLEN WEAVER, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE FOR SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT

JULY 18, 2022

DAVID M. RUBIN

dmrubin@syr.edu

In the classic 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, Chinese Communists brainwash a captured American serviceman and send him back to the States as their puppet, prepared to carry out their lethal orders to overthrow the U.S. government.


In South Carolina, we have our own version of a Manchurian candidate. She is running for the crucial position of State Superintendent of Education. This puppet is Republican nominee Ellen Weaver. Those pulling her strings are not Chinese Communists, but rather the shadowy Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, the libertarian Club for Growth, and Senator Tim Scott.


Their agenda is the privatization of K-12 education. Yass, who made billions in options trading on Wall Street, has a particular fantasy he intends to foist on South Carolina. He would use the State Legislature to redirect tax money dedicated to public education and instead give it directly to parents in the form of Education Savings Accounts (ESA's). Parents will be able to spend this money in any way they choose for the education of their children: on private schools, religious or faith-based schools, private tutors, vocational training, online educational programs, or whatever products the "vendors" of education choose to market.

The diversion of tax money to fund this fantasy will obviously devastate what is left of the public school system. It would end more than 300 years of free public education for white people in South Carolina and at least 155 years for Blacks.


But who cares about a little history when you have a fantasy, billions of dollars to brainwash the public into believing it, and the perfect candidate to implement it?


That candidate, Weaver, has no credentials for the job. None. In a rational world, parents in South Carolina would never entrust their children to an education system run by Weaver. She has never been a teacher. She has only an undergraduate degree from Bob Jones University in her hometown of Greenville. Once she left the employ of her father's construction business, she worked for Republican Senator Jim DeMint, doing fundraising, speech writing, and constituent service. DeMint then set her up in 2013 to run a new conservative think tank: The Palmetto Promise Institute.


Her limited exposure to public education didn't begin until 2019 when she was nominated to serve on the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, which she chaired for two years.


Ironically, the mission statement for this patronage body is to encourage "continuous improvement in South Carolina public schools." Weaver, however, has decided that her mission is to destroy, not improve, public schools.


Proclaiming herself an expert on "reforming" K-12 education, she was one of six Republicans to enter the primary for Superintendent. She performed poorly, attracting just 23.3% of the vote. The top vote-getter was Kathy Maness, a former educator and head of the state's largest teachers' organization. Maness received 30.6% of the vote, not enough to avoid a run-off against Weaver.

With a chance to grab the Superintendent position for Weaver, Yass and the other puppeteers pounced. Yass bet heavily on the runoff election. According to The State in Columbia, Yass's School Freedom Fund PAC spent an astounding $750,000 on ads attacking Maness in just the two weeks between the primary and the runoff.


The vicious advertising campaign drew non-existent links between Maness and Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris. The ads sounded the dog whistle of Critical Race Theory in the school curriculum, another Republican fantasy.


Weaver was touted as the candidate who would make sure school curricula didn't touch on difficult racial and sexual issues. She wouldn't require masking or virtual classrooms. Most importantly, she would push the Legislature to create the Educational Savings Accounts. That's her platform.


Turnout in the primary was 17.1%, low but not unusually low. For the runoff, it was a paltry 6.8%. Weaver won it with just 92,068 votes statewide, a margin of 63% to 37%. The Republican base turned out for her. The ad campaign swamped Maness and she couldn't overcome the noise.


In the general election we can expect the same dirty, expensive campaign against Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis. Yass has operated this way in other states.


For example, in the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in North Carolina, Yass and the Club for Growth (to which Yass contributes millions of dollars), backed Ted Budd, another supporter of privatization. Budd easily beat former Governor Pat McCrory in a primary filled with nasty attack ads that left McCrory goggle-eyed. "I saw a commercial by the Club for Growth recently about me," he said, "and after watching it, I decided to vote against me, briefly." Ellis can expect the same treatment.


Yass will have an ally in Senator Tim Scott, also an opponent of public education. The links between Scott and Weaver are tight. Scott endorsed Weaver in the run-off. Scott is aligned with the Club for Growth, and Weaver was a Club Fellow in its 2021 class. Scott is associated with the Opportunity Matters Fund that supports "school choice." Its money comes from billionaire Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, as well as from Yass and Charleston businessman and hotelier Ben Navarro.


The links go on: Weaver's Palmetto Promise Institute honored Scott's grandfather in June of 2021 by establishing the Artis Ware Center for Education Opportunity. Its goal is to advance the cause of Education Savings Accounts. The Artis Ware Center is prominent on the Palmetto Promise website, although its actual accomplishments are mysterious (as is true of most Scott projects).


Ellis will need a lot of help to fight back against the mud that is coming. Being the only qualified candidate in the race won't be enough.


One issue that could be pivotal is the requirement that the holder of the office of Superintendent in South Carolina must hold a master's degree at the time of the election. Weaver, at this writing, does not have one. We will examine how she intends to deal with this problem in another post.


The Communist Chinese failed to overthrow the U.S. government with their Manchurian candidate. Yass, Scott, and those who would wreck public education will also fail, as they must. Trouncing Ellen Weaver in November will be a necessary first step.

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