This commentary originally appeared in April.
Apparently some members of the Ann Arbor Education Association, a local
affiliate of the Michigan Education Association public school employee union,
believe that there is nothing more pressing than ginning up contributions to the
MEA’s political action committee, so they created a rambling, 21-minute video
for that purpose. "PACho Libre" is amusing in an immature sort of way — one
can’t help but generate snickers by presenting images of professional wrestlers
while Olivia Newton-John sings "Let’s Get Physical" — but underneath there are
some troubling glimpses into the thinking of union supporters.
The story is set in a dystopian future in which pro wrestlers have
successfully lobbied to cut school spending and reduced public education to a
shell of its former glory ("Teacher, the chalk doesn’t work!" one student cries
out), dumbing down the public and ensuring the popularity of their, uh, sport.
In the societal collapse that follows, one brave teacher decides to meet the
wrestlers head-on. Donning a Mexican wrestling mask in a parody of the movie
"Nacho Libre," he becomes PACho Libre, the living embodiment of our only hope
for saving American civilization: The Michigan Education Association PAC. (PACho
Libre – Get it?)
After the obligatory Rockyesque training sequence, the human PAC fund faces
his nemesis, "The Legislator," in the ring. The Legislator throws PACho off
balance with a combination of rhetorical boilerplate and logical non sequiturs.
Just when PACho looks to be down for the count, an orphan hands him a few coins.
Enlivened by the modest campaign contribution, PACho delivers heavy blows to the
Legislator and eventually pins him to the mat, winning the match and apparently
restoring so-called full funding to public education. The video ends with a
woman identified as "Linda Carter, AAEA President and Shameless Wrestling
Floozey (sic)," expressing her gratitude to PACho with suggestive language.
To the extent that "PACho Libre" provides insight into the thinking of MEA
supporters, it’s not encouraging. In particular, there’s no mention of the
state’s economic problems. The struggling auto industry, job losses, declining
tax base, falling state and local government revenues — it seems these realities
either don’t exist or don’t matter in the world of those who made "PACho Libre".
Neither does the Michigan Education Special Services Association, the MEA’s
controversial and expensive affiliate that acts as a third-party health
insurance provider. Equally revealing is that the movie is "dedicated to the
students, families, and staff whose lives, dreams, and careers will be affected
by the closing of 52 schools in Detroit by the end of next year." The irony is
that these schools are closing not as a result of state budget cuts, but because
Detroit parents are choosing to pull their children out of a failed and unsafe
system at the rate of 10,000 per year.
To the extent that state funds are tight, the video’s premise is that it is
all due to some special interest that thinks it can profit from the decline of
And funds aren’t really all that terribly tight. According to the National
Education Association, Michigan ranks in the top 10 nationally for total
expenditures on public education, at roughly $19 billion a year. On top of that,
the Senate Fiscal Agency reports per-pupil funding has steadily outpaced the
rate of inflation during the past decade.
One more observation about "PACho Libre:" In the final fight scene, "The
Legislator" makes arguments. The arguments may not be good ones — which is to be
expected since his lines were written by a union member bent on making him look
ridiculous — but the bottom line is "The Legislator" actually debates. PACho
Libre, on the other hand, needs money, but once he has it he wins on plain brute
strength. He has no arguments of his own to make.
So now we know the truth: It isn’t about winning debates or making wise
policy or providing good education. It isn’t even about securing good wages and
benefits through collective bargaining. In the end it’s all about political
muscle; it all boils down to PAC money. That’s not a happy ending.
Paul Kersey is senior labor policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for
Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland,