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Eli Broad urges U.S. Senators to reject Betsy DeVos' nomination

Feb 2, 2017

I’ve never met Eli Broad, the billionaire Los Angeles philanthropist, though I have interviewed him on the phone. He comes across as a kindly man who cares deeply about education and the arts.

I think there would be a lot less resentment of the so-called "one percent" if more of them were like Mr. Broad, who is committed to giving away 75% of his wealth.

But what many people don’t know about him is that he grew up in Detroit, the only child of poor immigrant parents.

In fact, he got his start as a real estate developer in the suburbs, as a co-founder of the Kaufman and Broad firm, and worked here, until he moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

My guess is that the development officers of both Wayne State University and the University of Michigan have repeatedly cursed their predecessors for not recruiting him for one of their schools instead of Michigan State.

Though Broad has donated nearly a billion dollars to art institutions in LA, he also endowed the new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at MSU.

While Broad has gotten involved in issues before, I can't recall him ever doing anything like this.

But Broad is also deeply concerned about education, especially urban education; few people know this, but he is a product of the Detroit Public Schools. He’s endowed an annual million-dollar prize for urban education. While he is a big supporter of charter, as well as public schools, he insists they be held accountable.

So it caused considerable shock waves yesterday when Broad wrote to both the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate to gently urge the rejection of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education.

While Broad has gotten involved in issues before, I can’t recall him ever doing anything like this.

Part of the reason for this has to have been her dreadful performance during her confirmation hearings, when it became clear that in addition to her extremist ideology, DeVos was also painfully ignorant of what the laws require.

Indeed, in his letter to the senators, Broad praised DeVos as “undoubtedly kind and well-intended,” but indicated that she had demonstrated that she is by no means fit for the job.

He noted that before the hearings, “I had serious concerns about her support for unregulated charter schools and vouchers as well as the potential conflicts of interest she might bring to the job,” and added, “her testimony not only reinforced my concerns but added to them.”

Finally, Broad said if she is confirmed, “much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children could be undone.”

This happened as two Republican senators announced they could not support DeVos either.

Virtually any other nominee, even one with similar views, would probably be swiftly confirmed.

As of now, it looks like the vote on her nomination, which is expected early next week could be a tie – 50 for and 50 against. That would presumably mean Vice President Pence would break the tie, and she’d be confirmed – unless she were to lose another vote.

Ironically, the administration probably would be better off if she were to withdraw. Virtually any other nominee, even one with similar views, would probably be swiftly confirmed. She would take office with a target on her back. But President Trump does not have a reputation for strategic compromise.

How this all plays out should be interesting indeed.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.