While describing the political start of presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) as an education activist, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza neglects to mention the group responsible for Bachmann’s early success on the speaker circuit — the conservative Maple River Education Coalition, later renamed EdWatch.
Before closing shop last year, EdWatch pushed against federal education laws and embraced a range of controversial stances, from creationism to climate change denial to anti-homosexuality. But its overarching goal was to return to parental control of education in place of federal mandates like No Child Left Behind.
As its “prized pupil,” Bachmann’s ties to EdWatch run deep. Described as “the incubator for [her] political campaign,” the group gave her a platform for her early activism, helped her win a seat in the state Senate in 2000 and supported her 2006 run for the U.S. House in a potential violation of campaign finance laws. In a fundraising letter sent out to the group mailing list in September 2005, EdWatch president Renee Doyle gave Bachmann a rousing endorsement:
“Although new to education activism, Michele was a quick study…After 2,000 hours of study, she began to speak all across Minnesota, blowing the whistle on the devastating effect Minnesota’s new educational system was having on our children and how it was part of federal legislation that affected every state in the nation. [...]
Michele has shown herself to be a rock in the face of adversity. For example, she has relentlessly supported a constitutional definition of marriage as one man and one woman, even under the threat of bodily harm to herself and her family…Friends, I cannot impress on you enough the need to support Sen. Michele Bachmann financially for U.S. Congress. She needs your support now as we have relied on her work for the past 7 years. Will you be there for her?
As I wrote this letter, it became increasingly clear that I am not asking for you to do this just for Michele. I am asking for you to help me, to help yourself, and to help our children. It’s all about truth. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about America.”
In turn, Bachmann has pushed EdWatch priorities as a legislator, successfully ensuring the repeal of a state education law the group opposed and authored an act that would allow Minnesota to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
And while the group officially shuttered last year, she continues to rely on its leadership; both of the group’s founders now work for her as staff members.
Aside from their education policies, Bachmann and EdWatch find common ground on anti-gay initiatives. EdWatch criticized Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration in 2006 for “actively promoting the indoctrination of students into a homosexual worldview and value system.” A year later, the organization opposed an amendment that would strengthen hate-crimes legislation because it assumed the “moral legitimacy of homosexuality by setting it along side constitutionally protected freedom of religion and racial characteristics.”
When she headlined EdWatch’s 2004 national conference, Bachmann addressed similar anti-gay themes in her speech on the homosexual agenda in public schools. Calling a curriculum teaching homosexuality “the first thing that will occur” after the legalization of gay marriage, she explained that such a move “leads to the personal enslavement of individuals.”
Given that Bachmann’s anti-gay statements have grabbed center stage in recent news coverage, the role that EdWatch played and continues to play in her policy approach should not be discounted.