Butler (D-Beverly Hills) is one of four Democrats on the Assembly’s 11-member Education Committee who declined to take a stand on a bill that would have made it dramatically easier for schools to fire teachers accused of sexual molestation of students, drug abuse or physical abuse. As a result, the bill, which the Senate passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote, never made it to the Assembly floor for consideration.
In August, CNN sent a reporter to interview the assembly members who let the bill die. Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), who represents the 35th District, would say only that the bill was “overreaching.” The other three legislators, including Butler, whose district encompasses West Hollywood, refused to discuss their decisions. CNN actually filmed Butler smirking as she tossed aside its written request for an interview. Now a video of the story, aired on on Anderson Cooper’s 360 program, is going viral among West Hollywood voters.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) was sparked by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s difficulty in firing Mark Berndt, a Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of blindfolding students, placing roaches on their faces, dangling spoons filled with semen near their mouths and forcing them to eat cookies laced with bodily fluid as part of a “tasting game.” Berndt appealed LAUSD’s decision to fire him. Rather than keep him on the payroll through the lengthy appeals process, the school district paid him $40,000 to resign.
So why won’t Butler explain herself? The best theory is that offered by former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who once headed the Education Committee. “They go there to vote, not to remain silent when their name’s called. That, to me, is what’s disgusting,” said Romero, who now works with Democrats for Education Reform. Romero explains that by refusing to vote, lawmakers can avoid looking bad to their constituents and also keep the support of the state teachers union, which opposed Padilla’s bill. Indeed, CNN’s report revealed that the six education committee members who either voted against or refused to vote on the sex abuse bill were major recipients of teachers union money. Butler, CNN said, has hauled in more than $11,000 since 2009. (That’s a problem, by the way, that Proposition 32 will solve if passed by voters in November. It bans contributions from corporations and unions to public officials.) The Los Angeles Democratic Party has a less credible explanation for the video’s circulation. In a series of “robo-calls” to registered Democrats in recent days, party chairman Eric Baucom blames the video’s traffic on “corporate interests.”
For Butler and her fellow mute committee members, silence clearly has been golden. But as she faces Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom for re-election in November, Butler might give thought to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously said that “speech is power.”
We’re all ears, Ms. Butler.