Some were surprised when Governor Matt Blunt appointed former State Rep. Derio Gambaro, D-St. Louis, who has an extensive background as an educational voucher supporter to the State Board of Education, after Blunt's failure to seat Donayle Whitmore-Smith on the board last year.
A bigger surprise would have been if he had appointed someone who did not support vouchers. The Turner Report has noted numerous times that the out-of-state voucher group All Children Matter pumped nearly $200,000 into attack advertising against Blunt's Democratic opponent State Auditor Claire McCaskill in 2004. Most of that came in the waning days of the race and likely provided Blunt with the razor-thin margin by which he became governor.
Blunt rewarded that support with the successful nomination of voucher-supporter Debi Demien to the board (the media simply accepted the part of her backgroud that Blunt emphasized- her years as a public schoolteacher without examining the rest of her background). He did not have the same success with Ms. Whitmore-Smith, who was dropped after much opposition.
But it is not just All Children Matter that is pushing to force Missouri into becoming one of a handful of states that allows educational vouchers. Blunt's first quarter disclosure form, filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, shows that the governor's three biggest contributors are all voucher supporters or school choice supporters if you go with that euphemism.
Rex Sinquefield has strong connections with both Blunt and Gambaro. Ethics Commission documents show Sinquefield, the head of the conservative Show-Me Institute, contributed $100,000 to Blunt on March 14. The Show-Me Institute is one of the leading advocates for vouchers. Sinquefield has funded studies to prove vouchers would be the route to go for Missouri.
In 2006, Sinquefield virtually bankrolled Gambaro's unsuccessful candidacy for the state senate seat eventually won by Gambaro's Democratic primary opponent Jeff Smith.
Smith, the senator who blocked Ms. Whitmore-Smith's appointment, may do the same to Gambaro, but the former state representative will be able to serve until the Senate is in session next January.
Though a contribution limit of $675 was in effect at that time, Sinquefield contributed $20,700 into Gambaro's account during its final quarter, by placing $6,500 donations into three committee accounts, which then turned the money over to Gambaro. No pretense was made otherwise, since those were the only contributions those commttees received during that time period. Sinquefield and his wife each chipped in with $600 directly to Gambaro to account for the other $1,200.
But Sinquefield's $100,000 contribution in March was not the only one of that amount received by Blunt, according to the Ethics Commission documents. He also received $100,000 from EthelMae Humphreys and David Humphreys, the mother and son who are in charge of TAMKO in Joplin.
Mrs. Humphreys sits on the board of directors of two powerful pro-voucher groups, the CATO Institute and Sinquefield's Show-Me Institute.
A quick examination of the CATO Institute website makes the point clear:
"We envision a day when state-run schools give way to a dynamic independent system of schools competing to meet the needs of every American child."
The titles of the books and articles funded by the CATO Institute leave no doubt about where it stands on education:
-School Choice: Sunshine Replaces the Clouds
-Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle Over School Choice
-Educational Freedom in Urban America
-What Americans Can Learn About School Choice from Other Countries
If the $300,000 Blunt received from the Humphreys and Sinquefield wasn't enough, the governor also received a $25,000 donation from the CNS Corporation, run by millionaire Charles Norval Sharpe, who runs the Heartland Academy, a private school, and has long been a backer of pouring public money into private schools.
It was reported last week that it was Sharpe's private plane that was used last week to taxi Matt Blunt across the state for his MOHELA victory lap.
A school choice effort failed in the legislature this year by a 96-62 vote, with only Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, joining the majority from the Joplin area. That doesn't mean it won't make it through in 2008. Voucher proponents have money and have absolutely no problem spending it.
And now, at least until January, they have another backer on the State Board of Education.
(Pictured: Matt Blunt, Rex Sinquefield, Derio Gambaro)