A Pulitzer Prize winning writer’s call for the drowning of state lawmakers behind a bill to overhaul Detroit’s school system has drawn fierce fire in Michigan.
Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, advocated rounding up the lawmakers, sewing them up in burlap sacks with rabid dogs - and tossing them into the Straits of Mackinac.
His fiery piece, branded “despicable” and “vile” by detractors, was written just as the city, and the legislature, are embroiled in an increasingly fractious debate over the future of Detroit’s schools. At the center of the debate is whether Detroit should have some control over the establishment and the siting of charter schools.
Henderson, in a signed op-ed published Saturday, was referring to House lawmakers, all Republicans, who passed a bill that differed significantly from a bipartisan one that cleared the Senate in March.
Crucially, the House bill, unlike the one passed in the Senate, does not include a proposed Detroit Education Commission, which would have regulatory oversight of the school system, both charter and public. The Senate is due to vote on the new House bill this week.
“This legislation that passed the state House of Representatives Thursday night, the one that bows to the thoroughly debunked theory that a free-for-all, market-based approach to public schooling will produce quality choices for Detroit parents?” wrote Henderson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2014. “It is garbage.”
Later in the piece, Henderson added: “A sack. An animal. A lake. No lover of actual democracy could weep at that outcome.”
Ben DeGrow, education director of the free market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which supports the House bill, described Henderson’s piece as a “despicable” reaction to the new plan for Detroit’s schools. “I would say he went over the line,” he said Wednesday. “His remarks were indefensible, inappropriate and not becoming the kind of debate we want to have.”
DeGrow said the words speak for themselves; Henderson advocated the drowning of state lawmakers.
Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the pro-charter school advocacy group, the Great Lakes Education Project, took to twitter Wednesday to deliver a serious of condemnatory messages.
Naeyaert posted links to publications condemning Henderson’s “call to murder legislators he opposes.”
And he added: “Imagine the outrage from the elites if any GOP leader made these vile comments.”
In another, Naeyaert wrote: “GOP provides solutions while DEMs spew hate and promote violence over #DPS bills.”
But Jack Lessenberry, political analyst with Michigan Radio, in a personal comment piece flaying the House bill, wrote that Henderson reacted in his way because the proposed legislation was “so blatantly horrible.”
Henderson had not returned, at the time of posting, an email asking for comment.
After his sentence calling for burlap, dogs, and drowning, Henderson wrote: "That’s harsh. Maybe. But isn’t that what the Romans or Greeks or some other early practitioners of democracy used to do with solicitous and unprincipled public officials?”