In the middle of a speech in which he demanded an end to teacher tenure, retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield unleashed the following bombshell:
The Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.
His quote was taken from a 2007 column in the ironically titled Linn Unterrified Democrat. The author, Ralph Voss, a former judge and self-described Reagan Republican, told me the Sinquefield quote took his words out of context and provided me with a copy of the original column.
The damning words linking the KKK to public education were not the only ones which Sinquefield used to shade the truth during his speech at the private Lindenwood University.
He employed the oft-used tactic of saying teacher tenure was driving good teachers out of education while the bad ones lingered on and on just drawing their paychecks and sapping any chance children have of receiving an education.
Sinquefield had no evidence to back it up. He didn't need any.
What Sinquefield, an outspoken advocate of educational vouchers, has is his bank account and his willingness to spend money on politicians to do his bidding. When you have billions and you are willing to use it in a state that has no campaign contribution limits, no one worries about whether you make any sense or not, they just ask "What do you want me to do?" and "How quickly do you want it done?"
While Missourians are far more interested in legislation that would bring jobs to the state, their elected officials, many with substantial money trails leading back to Sinquefield, are insisting that issues like teacher tenure are at the top of the list for what voters want accomplished during the 2012 legislative session.
In 2011, Sinquefield contributed $50,000 to Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, who pushed an unsuccessful tenure elimination bill that would have forced public schools to divide their faculties into four tiers, and paid them according to student scores on standardized tests, with the teachers on the top tier receiving 60 percent more than those on the next tier. This year, Sen. Cunningham, is pushing a bill that would open the door for vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, who put education at the top of the agenda, received $75,000 from Sinquefield, while the chairman of the House Education Committee, former public school teacher Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, picked up $13,500, from the billionaire. Dieckhaus, who sponsored the House version of Sen. Cunningham's teacher tenure bill last year, has a new bill aimed at eliminating tenure this year.
Sinquefield is also pushing a constitutional amendment that would eliminate Missouri's income tax and replace it with a larger sales tax. At this point, he is already funding a group in favor of the proposal called "Let Voters Decide" to the tune of more than $5 million. The plan, opponents argue, would decimate public schools, which are already reeling from the damage that has been done to 0ur economy. From all appearances, that would not bother Sinquefield a bit.
What could make 2012 different from other years is that apparently Sinquefield has made it known that he is tired of spending so much money and not receiving anything in return.
Two Joplin-area businessmen who have regular dealings with the legislature told me that they recently asked a local legislator why he was supporting Sinquefield's plan to eliminate the state income tax, when they knew he had said many times it was a bad plan and would never work.
The legislator said he and his fellow representatives had been told by leadership they needed to be vocal in their support of the changes Sinquefield wants, or the money flow was going to be cut off.
The money flow continues unabated.
Perhaps after the controversy over his Lindenwood speech, Sinquefield will be content to let his money do the talking. Hopefully not. His billions give him the appearance of someone who has something of substance to say.
When he actually opens his mouth and removes that thin veil, all of the riches in the world cannot hide the arrogance and prejudice of Rex Sinquefield.