McKenzie accuses Rouson of receiving aid from pro-voucher group listen08/21/08 Seán Kinane
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Florida courts have struck down certain voucher programs in the past because the state constitution prohibits taxpayer funding from being used “directly or indirectly” to aid religious institutions. But constitutional amendments on November’s ballot could change that and the amendments have become an issue in a local race for the state Legislature.
The Group All Children Matter – Florida has sent out mailers publicizing the accomplishments of State Representative Darryl Rouson, who is running for reelection in District 55. All Children Matter is a conservative group that supports vouchers and other forms of school choice. Rouson’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Rev. Charles McKenzie, Jr. said he does not know why a right-wing group would pay for flyers publicizing a Democratic candidate.
The mailer says “Darryl Rouson: Changing Florida for the better,” and lists several issues that “Rouson has fought for.” Rouson was a member of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or TBRC, a group that has the power to place proposed amendments to the state’s constitution on the ballot. The TBRC is assembled only once every 20 years to examine the budget, revenue, tax and expenditure processes of the state. Three amendments deal with education and two of them specifically allow tax money to go to religious institutions for education, McKenzie said.
While on the TBRC, Rouson voted for what is now known as Amendment 7. In April, the St. Pete Times ran an editorial critical of the amendment, saying the TBRC “is acting as if it were the Jeb Bush Education Agenda Commission.” It specifically called out Darryl Rouson’s deciding vote to include the amendment on this fall’s ballot. The TBRC also supported what is now known as Amendment 9. Part of that amendment would require school districts to spend 65% of their budgets on classroom instruction, but another part of it opens the door for spending public education money on religious institutions, McKenzie said.
Amendment 5 is also called the tax-swap and was struck down by a circuit judge, but an appeal will be heard by the state’s Supreme Court next month. McKenzie blames Rouson for it and the other TBRC amendments being on the ballot.
Brecht Heuchan is a consultant in Florida on behalf of All Children Matter, the group responsible for the flyer. He said that his group sent out mailers touting Darryl Rouson because of his legislative history, not because of amendments put on the ballot by the TBRC.
WMNF spoke with Representative Rouson, but he declined a taped interview, saying that his advisors have recommended that he not speak to the press right now. The flyer quotes from a BayBuzz blog entry by St. Petersburg Times writer Cristina Silva noting that Rouson asked Governor Charlie Crist for a special session of the legislature. The flyer shortened the title of the entry to “Good luck Rouson,” but the actual title is “Good luck with that, Rouson,” which McKenzie says was a sarcastic reference to the implausibility of Rouson’s request.
The consultant for All Children Matter – Florida, Brecht Heuchan, said the flyer does not mischaracterize the blog entry.
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Cristina Silva told WMNF that she did not write the headline, but the blog entry was not intended to support Rouson’s request for a special session.
Heuchan said that the mission of the group All Children Matter – Florida is to “advance the cause of school choice in state legislative races … in Florida and around the country.” “School choice” includes concepts such as vouchers or scholarships, charter schools, voluntary pre-kindergarten, virtual schools, and home schooling, Heuchan said. Because All Children Matter – Florida is an Electioneering Communication Organization, it cannot support or oppose candidates, Heuchan said, but it paid for the mailers touting Rouson’s positions on issues.
District 55 covers parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota Counties. WMNF asked Heuchan whether Rouson has contacted All Children Matter either to request that they send out flyers or to ask them to stop sending mailings. “No.” Heuchan said.
Charles McKenzie is also the Rainbow PUSH coordinator for the state of Florida. He said that in addition to getting indirect financial support from the pro-voucher group All Children Matter, Rouson is also receiving funding from payday loan groups.
The primary election for District 55 and all other races is next Tuesday, but early voting is going on now.
Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF (March 2008)
Note: Amendment 9 information has been corrected on this site since the story aired.