North Carolina's swing-state status is giving us local reporters a glimpse of the wacky world of national politics. The Democratic National Convention was the full immersion, of course, but today's visit from Arne Duncan was another trip down the rabbit hole.
|The Honorable Arne Duncan|
"Please note: The Honorable Arne Duncan will be attending and speaking at this event in his personal capacity on behalf of Obama for America," a press release said. "Please refrain from using his official title at the event and in related press reports, and note that we will not be taking questions concerning his official responsibilities.
I told my editor they wanted us not to call him education secretary in coverage. We both laughed.
When I arrived at Amelie's, an Obama staffer intercepted me. The campaign had been calling our two political reporters, Jim Morrill and Tim Funk. Although I was welcome to stay, the staffer said, it didn't really make sense for an education reporter to cover this event since it was about the middle class, not education.
I told her I'd stick around.
Meanwhile, the educators, parents, students and activists who had been invited were getting the same message, repeatedly. At one point a campaign staffer standing on a chair asked the group what they were supposed to call Duncan. "The Honorable Arne Duncan," they chorused.
The crew from Generation Nation -- Providence senior Arjun Gupta, North Meck junior Sarah Kerman and adviser Amy Farrell -- asked if I knew what this was all about. Would they get in trouble if they asked the education-related questions they'd prepared? Did they need to come up with new ones? I said I wasn't sure, but encouraged them to ask their original questions.
Duncan arrived, accompanied by guys in suits with wires in their ears. He spent a couple of minutes talking about his Chicago ties to the Obama family, then segued into ... you guessed it. Education.
Duncan talked about his administration's cradle-to-career agenda, the North Carolina reforms being fueled by the federal Race to the Top program, the Obama administration's increased spending for Pell grants and the need to invest in education. He fielded questions from the audience, including the Generation Nation students. Every single one was about education. Duncan's a pretty down-to-earth guy, and no one seemed to feel a need to use any kind of title.
The event had been billed as a "What's at Stake for the Middle Class Roundtable." After Duncan finished, Obama campaigner Leah Hill made the only clear reference to that theme: "This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class."
I came back to file a story -- and go back to life as a local education reporter.