In an unexpected political twist, Silicon
Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings appears likely to lose his
seat on the state Board of Education for supporting two
issues dear to voters' hearts: English-language instruction
for immigrant students and making it easier to pass school
Both issues won big at the ballot box, but Hastings,
known to DVD aficionados as the founder of Netflix, is
finding that taking a strong position on issues can be
poison in the state Capitol.
Today's confirmation hearing by the state Senate Rules
Committee on Hastings and five other members of the Board of
Education was postponed until next Wednesday, apparently the
result of the controversy over Hastings.
"He's a man who has put his money with his principles,"
said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, an Oakland
Democrat, referring to Hastings' vocal and financial backing
of education causes he supports. "He's done education a
great service in California. There just seems to be a
confluence of factors that don't have anything to do with
Reed Hastings or his qualifications that make his
confirmation highly unlikely at this time."
Boiled down, Perata's comments mean Hastings' views have
annoyed enough senators on both sides of the aisle to keep
him from getting the 27 confirmation votes he needs from the
40 senators -- assuming he gets past the Rules Committee.
Sen. Martha Escutia, a Whittier Democrat who came within
one vote last year of being elected Senate president pro
tem, is leading the fight against Hastings' confirmation.
Hastings said he was shocked by this week's turn of
"I've been hopeful that this would be just a
misunderstanding," Hastings said. "As a long-term Democrat,
it's just kind of ironic to be shot down by the Democrats."
On the left, Democratic opponents such as Escutia are
passionate about bilingual education. On the right, there
are anti-tax Republicans. In the middle are lawmakers such
as Perata, who question whether it's a fight worth fighting.
Bilingual education is the sore point for some Latino
members of the Legislature. Though voters gave overwhelming
support in 1998 for Proposition 227, which required
classroom instruction in English, there remains opposition
in some corners of the Legislature.
"I believe very strongly in defending my constituents,"
said Escutia, whose Southern California district has a large
population of Latinos.
About 8 percent of California's English learners are
taught in their native language because Proposition 227
allows waivers. Escutia said she and Latino lobbyists had
been battling Hastings ever since he persuaded the Board of
Education to withhold federal reading funds from those
waivered classrooms that did not agree to teach in English 2
1/2 hours a day.
Escutia and others remain committed to their belief that
students should be taught in their native language.
"I want the kids to learn English," she said. "But I know
what it feels like to feel locked out in class because you
don't know what the teacher is saying."
After the board approved Hastings' motion requiring
English instruction, the Legislature overrode the policy by
passing AB1485 in 2003.
Hastings has also alienated some Republican lawmakers by
helping lead the successful campaign in November 2000 for
Proposition 39, which lowered school bond approval from 66.7
percent to 55 percent.
"We got that passed, and it has generated an additional
$8 billion for schools," Hastings said.
But the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association blames
Hastings and other "high-tech millionaires and
billionaires," saying "Prop. 39 has cost homeowners billions
Then-Gov. Gray Davis appointed Hastings to the state
board in 1999. He had been CEO of TechNet, a group of
high-tech executives involved in public schools, and a
strong advocate of charter schools and accountability.
State schools chief Jack O'Connell is lobbying senators
to confirm his friend Hastings.
"He's been a tremendous asset to the state board,''
O'Connell said. "There are 6.2 million students who benefit
from his great work."
E-mail Nanette Asimov at