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Preschool Campaign Gets an Ethics Issue
Reiner may be the issue, for now… but its still a bad idea...

[by K. Lloyd Billingsley] 3/24/06

Rob Reiner claims that opponents of Proposition 82, his ballot initiative for universal government-run preschool in California, are making him the issue because they are incapable of arguing against the measure on its merits. In recent days, Reiner has become the issue, but for reasons related to his first political production.

The child of show-biz magnate Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner made his television debut as a motorcycle hood in a "Partridge Family" episode in 1970. The following year, Norman Lear cast him as the verbose liberal Michael Stivik in "All in the Family." His fame secured, Reiner went on to direct such movie hits as When Harry Met Sally, and to make a mark in politics.

K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Reiner contrived Proposition 10, the 1998 California Children and Families First initiative, also known as the tobacco-tax initiative, which spawned the California Children and Families Commission. The task of this commission was to educate parents about existing programs for their children.

"Prop. 10 contained only a one-word mention, in passing, about preschool," notes George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times. "It wasn't included in any voter guide argument. There definitely was no voter mandate to promote a future preschool ballot measure." But such promotion did begin to take place around 2002.

Proposition 10 created the First 5 Commission, conveniently chaired by Rob Reiner. In the months before Proposition 82 qualified for the June ballot, this commission spent $23 million on ads to create demand for universal pre-school. As George Skelton noted, "the ads were targeted at swing voters without small kids, clearly with the goal of peddling the initiative."

The ads stopped as soon as the measure qualified for the ballot. A February 23 editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune argued that, "the use of $23 million in public funds for a personal crusade merits a criminal investigation." The next day, February 24, Mr. Reiner took a leave of absence from First 5. He had been keeping a low profile but on March 14 he showed up at the Sacramento Press Club.

There he claimed to be unaware of a memorandum about the strategy of promoting greater government involvement in pre-school. If so, that made him an incompetent chairman of his own commission, according to Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee.

"The Hollywood director and political activist insisted there was absolutely nothing wrong with the children's commission he chairs using public money to persuade voters to embrace his belief in universal, state-funded preschool," wrote Weintraub. "And the fact that even now, after he has been made painfully aware of the details, he still does not see a problem with the campaign, suggests he has a huge ethical blind spot."

The next day, March 15, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit into the First 5 matter, requested by Assemblyman Dave Cox, Fair Oaks Republican and Dario Frommer, a Democrat from Los Angeles. The Sacramento District Attorney is also looking into the issue.

Proposition 82 remains on the ballot and a March 7 Field Poll showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting the measure, with 34 percent opposed. The only poll that counts will take place June 6. If voters turn the issue into a referendum on the way public funds are used to fund public campaigns, Mr. Reiner will have only himself to blame.

Meanwhile, contrary to his charges, critics of Proposition 82 have argued the merits of universal preschool and found problems with the various studies advanced to support it. They also question the wisdom of spending $2.4 billion to add four-year-olds to the fold in a state that does a poor job of K-12 education. CRO

copyright 2006 Pacific Research Institute




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