Welcome readers of The Florida Squeeze and NPE. Please see this UPDATE post.
UPDATE: (Saturday evening at 6:48PM CDT) A third person on Rhee’s list has denied ever signing the petition. Erwin Crawford of Longwood “does not remember signing anything from this individual”
UPDATE: (Saturday afternoon at 4:42PM CDT) Rhee’s list appears to include up to eight retirees from Fort Myers.
UPDATE: (Saturday afternoon at 3:30PM CDT) Bill Williamson of Palm Bay, Florida denies signing Rhee’s petition saying, “to the best of my recollection, I do not recall signing a petition seeking support for the so-called Parent Trigger legislation. I do not support any legislation that would enable charter schools to shoulder their way into our public school systems without open discussion and local or statewide referendums.”
UPDATE: (Saturday afternoon at 3PM CDT) I randomly selected 30 names on Rhee’s list. Two people denied signing, three confirm signing and two email addresses no longer exists.
Earlier this week, Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), was asked by constituents and members of the media for the list of supporters she’s been touting during her advancement of the Parent Trigger bill she’s sponsoring. The list came from Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst. Scathing Purple Musings has a copy of the list, but more importantly, Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald also received the list and discovered that it is likely to be a fraud.
Doubt has also been cast on a petition allegedly signed by more than 1,200 supporters of the parent trigger proposal. Three people whose names appear on the petition told The Herald/Times they never signed it.
“It’s sad that they are resorting to these tactics,” said Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach County mother whose non-profit organization Parents Across America opposes the parent trigger bill. “But it puts it all in perspective. It’s people from outside Florida and outside our schools who support this bill. It’s not the real parents.”
Separately, questions have been raised about signatures collected in support of the parent trigger by StudentsFirst, the education think tank founded by Rhee.
The signees include retired Miami-Dade schoolteacher Ira Paul, who confirmed his signature to The Herald/Times.
But Maria and Dan O’Hollearn, of Coral Gables, both said they didn’t sign the petition, despite their names and addresses appearing on the petition.
“I wouldn’t have signed anything like that,” said Maria O’Hollearn, a healthcare professional.
Carlos Herrera, a 24-year-old Florida International University student, said he, too, was surprised his name was on the list of supporters. Herrera said he wasn’t familiar with StudentsFirst or the parent trigger bill, and didn’t remember signing a petition supporting it.
A spokesman for StudentsFirst said the organization “stands by the authenticity of the signatures.” And Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who has referenced the petition during debates, said she had no reason to believe to doubt their legitimacy.
But other senators said lingering questions over the petition and the videos would cast a dark shadow heading into Monday’s debate on the Senate floor.
“We don’t need groups from other states coming into Florida and causing trouble,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a staunch opponent of the bill. “This is proof.”
Apparently Stargel and Rhee are going with the “fake but accurate argument.” Already embroiled in the cover-up of cheating that occurred on her watch as DC chancellor, it’s no surprise that a desperate Rhee would say anything to get out of hot water. With her bill being making it to the floor on Monday, Stargel is desperately trying to run out the clock.
Just looking at the list raises concerns about its veracity. A plurality of the names Approximately 750) were time-stamped during a six and a half hour period on March 21 and included some names twice. One signature actually appeared and was counted three times in a row. Moreover, logging numbers that appears at the end of each March 21 entry begins with 5,310, 642 goes in a row with two or three breaks until 5,311, 422. This would account for over 750 of Stargel/Rhee’s 1200.
There are countless questions that need to be answered. Consider these:
Why a petition for a single piece of legislation in an isolated state begins with the number 5,311,422 is indeed puzzling. How and why was Rhee able to get so many signatures in a six-hour period. Why didn’t Stargel vet the numbers? Were the names on the petition part of the 1000 that Rhee operative Catherine Robinson submit during last year’s debate?
If McGrory were able to identify three people from the list who said they never signed the petition, how did Rhee get their names? And how many more from Rhee’s petition have no business being there either? Did Rhee purchase a mailing list to create to generate fake support?
Worse potentially for Rhee, has she broken any laws? Is it illegal to submit a fraudulent list of supporters to affect legislation? If there is no such statute, Stargel is obliged to vet the list. She obviously didn’t and her denial represents the latest deceitful maneuver by a Florida republican legislator to get an equally deceitful bill passed.