Ever wonder what a politician really thinks, when the prepared remarks are put aside, the cameras turned off, and no one but a trusted friend or colleague is (apparently) listening? Colorado residents recently got a taste, it seems, of such candor from the now former chairman of the state House’s education committee.
In a private e-mail that eventually found its way into the public domain, Democratic Rep. Michael Merrifield wrote: “There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers, and Voucherizers! They deserve it!”
The Dec. 6 message to Sen. Sue Windels, a Democrat who chairs the companion Senate panel, recently was posted on a conservative-leaning political blog, facethestate.com, and from there picked up steam—and media attention.
Ultimately, Mr. Merrifield apologized and late last month stepped down as chairman, though he is staying on the committee and said he is relinquishing the helm only for the remainder of this year’s legislative session.
The message had to do with legislation that, as originally drafted, would have severely restricted the ability of the Charter Schools Institute, a statewide body, to continue as an authorizer of charter schools. The state has more than 130 such schools. The Colorado Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and some school districts have strongly opposed the institute, arguing that it has usurped local control.
Randy DeHoff, who heads the institute and is a member of the state board of education, said it’s no secret that Mr. Merrifield is hostile to charter schools and other forms of school choice.
“He has voted against [virtually] every piece of legislation that has tried to expand or strengthen school choice,” Mr. DeHoff said. “What was surprising was the vehemence and the language that Merrifield used.”
Rep. Merrifield said in a March 30 statement: “Despite the private nature of the e-mail, I deeply regret the strong language and disrespectful tone. I am sorry for any offense taken.”
In a separate statement that day, he said his decision to step down as chairman was driven by the e-mail message and by health considerations. He is battling throat cancer.
“I don’t want my remarks or my health to sidetrack the important work of the House education committee,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2007 edition of Education Week