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How Brat Won, Why Cantor Lost; California Rules for Teacher Firings Stuck Down as Unconstitutional; Arne Duncan Applauds California Ruling; New Information on Shootout at Las Vegas Walmart.

Aired June 11, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A political earthquake, a stunning upset, whatever you call it, the buzz today is all about the House majority leader, Eric Cantor's, primary loss to a little known challenger. So why did Cantor lose? How did Dave Brat win? Let's bring in our political contributor, Michael Smerconish. He is the host of CNN's "Smerconish," which airs Saturday mornings here on CNN. He's also a radio talk show host.

Michael, you just finished your radio show. What was it, three hours I take it? What did you hear from your listeners?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH SHOW: I think most interesting, Wolf, for your audience, would be what did I hear from listeners who called and purported to be from the Eric Cantor district. I think "neglect" is something that sums up the sentiment that I heard from several of them, much in line with what your guests were saying. They thought this was an individual whose eye had been taken off of the district, was far too much on a national platform, and maintaining his position and becoming speaker than it was constituent service at home. No better than him having awakened and been at a Starbucks fundraising in Washington on the day of the election instead of being in the district.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip for you, Michael. This is Eric Cantor last month. He was obviously going after his Republican challenger, Dave Brat, a university economics professor. Listen to what he said. Listen to the reaction from the crowd in Virginia.


REP. ERIC CANTOR, (R), VIRGINIA: It is easy to sit in the rarefied environments of academia, in the ivory towers of a college campus with no accountability and no consequence.



BLITZER: He is getting boos. A little bit of applause. A lot of people weren't paying attention to that reaction. I guess, with hindsight, we should have been paying a lot more attention.

SMERCONISH: You know, the play book says if you are running on the right, you are supposed to talk about the liberal members of academia. By no one's stretch of the administration would Dave Brat fall in that category. And that's where I think it fell on deaf ears.

BLITZER: What was the role that talk radio played, do you believe, in this race? Some talk radio stars clearly don't like Eric Cantor.

SMERCONISH: I think it played a significant role. I came of age, politically, and involved in an era when getting out the vote on primary day meant you went door to door with a street list under the direction of a committee person or a ward leader and you asked people to go out and cast a ballot. That function has been completely supplanted by the world of talk radio and on the right by Drudge, by FOX. That is the GOP apparatus now. When you have the likes of Mark Levin or Laura Ingraham, who are banging the drum day in and day or for the opponent of Eric Cantor, it matters, especially when we are talking about 12 percent coming out on a primary. Who are they? They are the most passionate, meaning the most ideologically driven voters. How do you reach them? Not with a street list going door to door? You reach them through the airwaves.

BLITZER: Michael Smerconish's program on CNN airs Saturday mornings, 9:00 a.m. eastern. Let me recommend it to our viewers our there.

Michael, thanks for joining us.

SMERCONISH: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a possible sea change in public education. California's rules for firing teachers have been struck down as unconstitutional. It could have consequences in your local school system. We will explain.


BLITZER: Turning now to public education. Teachers' unions are vowing to fight back after a California judge struck down the state's rules for keeping and firing teachers. The judge heard evidence that removing one ineffective teacher can take up to 10 years and cost nearly $500,000.

Our Athena Jones is covering this.

Athena, this could affect school systems in California but elsewhere as well.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This case was brought by nine public school students. They were backed by an education reform group called Students Matter. This ruling, which I have right here, it's being called a landmark decision. It could have an impact in California and far beyond California.

This was framed as a civil rights issue. The judge cited another landmark decision we know about, Brown V. Board of Education, in agreeing with the plaintiffs in this case that the way California hires and fires its teachers is unconstitutional. It violates students' rights to equal access to an education. This affects poor and minority students. The supporters are calling it a victory for students. Unions are saying it's scapegoating teachers. The issue is that the way California grants tenure is much shorter

than many other states. It takes about two years or a little less to decide whether a teacher gets those big strong lifetime protections, job protections. Also this case addresses the fact that it makes it incredible hard to get rid of teachers in California. As you mentioned, it can take up to 10 years. Also the rules about last one hired, first one fired when it comes to budget cuts. They put seniority ahead of teacher quality when it comes to getting rid of teachers. So this has been a closely watched case.

What's next? This group, I spoke to them today, they are already talking to about a dozen other states, looking at bringing similar cases in states like New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota. This is going to be a case that's closely watched. They will appeal it. Unions will appeal it. This group will continue to fight it. This is not the end.

BLITZER: Nothing is more important than our kids' education. Having good teachers is critical.

Athena, thanks very much.

The education secretary, Arne Duncan, is among those applauding this ruling in California. He called it -- and I'm quoting now -- "a mandate to fix the system."

Let's bring in John Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School Districts.

John, thanks very much for joining us.

You are happy about this decision? You think it's going to help kids. Give us your immediate reaction.

JOHN DEASY, SUPERINTENDENT, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICTS: I'm very pleased. I think this is a historic day for students' rights here in California. I think it is a very pro public school, very pro teacher and very pro student decision. The same rights that teachers justly deserve, those rights are now clearly being provided for the youth, particularly youth who have lived in circumstances of poverty.

BLITZER: The judge's ruling was stayed, pending an appeal from the teacher's union. Will this ruling stand? Where do we go from here?

DEASY: I think -- I hope what happens is that we form a coalition of strong labor leaders and our legislators and immediately get to rewriting laws that are just and legal. These laws are -- have been found to be unconstitutional. It's incumbent upon us to work as quickly as possible -- and I know we can do that -- to set a craft of laws that are able to hold the same rights that teachers justly deserve with rights for students.

BLITZER: What do you say to the teachers unions -- we will hear the other side shortly -- to the teachers unions who say this is unfair to teachers, they have worked hard, they deserve to have the seniority, they deserve to have their jobs protects? DEASY: Absolutely. Great teachers deserve to have their jobs

protected. This is very pro teacher in a number of ways. One, California has a very, very short period of time -- it's about 13 to 14 months -- to determine if we're going to award tenure, which I believe teachers justly deserve tenure. But it's a ridiculously short period of time. We don't finish providing the professional development to support new teachers before you have to make the decision to keep them. So the judge on this phase of the ruling is that it's absurd to have that period of time. You need a longer period of time to take into account all of the great work that teachers do to make that decision.


BLITZER: How long she they have to be a teacher before they qualify to be tenured?

DEASY: I think that we would find it very reasonable and teachers would -- anywhere between three and five years. Allow us to have a period of time to work and support teachers before we make this important decision and then --


BLITZER: -- John, if they have three to five years, they're tenured. They're doing a good job, they get tenure. What if they decide to coast after that? They decide, I have tenure, I'm not going to do as good a job. What do you do to a teacher then?

DEASY: I don't find many teachers who behave that way whatsoever. I do find teachers however --

BLITZER: What if they do?

DEASY: If we find teachers who can't teach, students can't learn or they commit an egregious act, then they need to be removed and be removed in a very fair process, but one that does cost a district millions where we should invent that in students and in teacher raises and one that happens quicker.

BLITZER: John Deasy, thanks very much for your perspective. Good luck.

DEASY: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: As I like to say, nothing is more important than our kids.

Just ahead, the president of the American Federation of Teachers will joins us to explain why teachers unions oppose this ruling in California and what they are now planning to do about it.


BLITZER: Tossing out California's rules for firing teachers is the good news to Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C. She says teachers unions have lost sight of what's most important in the classroom.


MICHELLE RHEE, FORMER CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: The union's job is to protect the rights and pay of their members. They want their members to keep their jobs regardless. What this judge is saying is that we have to look out for the interests of children first and foremost, that we have to ensure that there's a high-quality teacher in front of every child every single day. And the reality is that these things should not be seen at odds with one another. We can see this as a real opportunity to create a new paradigm in which we are elevating the teaching profession but we're also protecting the rights of kids.


BLITZER: Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about one and a half billion teachers, educators nationwide.

Randi, why is Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, the courts in California wrong, and the teachers unions that you represent right?

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Because everybody wants to have great schools for our kids. Everybody's impulse, I hope, is to have great schools for our kids.

BLITZER: Why shouldn't school districts be able to fire a bad teacher?

WEINGARTEN: Of course, they should be. And frankly, in California --


BLITZER: But it's so difficult. 10 years, half a million dollars. Why does it have to be so difficult for a teacher not really educating kids?

WEINGARTEN: It shouldn't be that difficult and there are so many --


BLITZER: But what is your proposal? How do you fix this?

WEINGARTEN: Let me just say, this was, what the court did, was the wrong solution --


WEINGARTEN: -- for some of the right problems.


WEINGARTEN: Because, at the end of the day, we all need great teachers. It's not the only thing we need. We need to look at other things as well. BLITZER: But how do you fix the problem? If teachers have tenure,

it's so difficult to fire a crummy teacher.

WEINGARTEN: This is what we need to do. Great teachers need to have a voice so they can take risks. We also need a pipeline into teaching because half the teachers leave because they don't have the conditions they need. You are absolutely right, that if a teacher cannot teach, they should be fired effectively and quickly. That's why you need to have real evaluations.

BLITZER: But the unions make it difficult to fire a teacher. California, you heard the testimony, 10 years, half a million dollars to fire a teacher.

WEINGARTEN: Right. And then there was also testimony -- this case is going to be appealed. There's also testimony in California that said that districts that are working together, like ABC, Laguna Beach, never have these problems. Look at what happened in New York. When we saw the extensive time it was taking, the union and even Michael Bloomberg got together and said, we're going to cut that time. In New Haven, in Baltimore --

BLITZER: What's the time in New York? How long does it take to fire a teacher?

WEINGARTEN: About three to six months.

BLITZER: Do they get paid during that period?

WEINGARTEN: Unless there is terrible offense that they are accused of, they get paid.

BLITZER: What about getting tenure? We heard Mr. Deasy say three to five years as opposed to one and a half years. Is that acceptable?

WEINGARTEN: At the end of the day, the laws in many states have now changed so that this case would be moot in most of those states. What John Deasy told you was basically you have lots of people in California who were concerned that it was a year and a half to get due process. That's why they went through this. The problem is, what the judge did here was just narrowed the decision to presuppose that the only thing a child needs is a great teacher. No, a child needs a great teacher and art and music and high standards and supports to be able to --


BLITZER: So you are going to fight this decision in California?

WEINGARTEN: We're going to fight the decision. But what I'm concerned about this decision is the presupposition that to help children, you need to hurt teachers. And where I agree with Michelle Rhee is that it is an opportunity. We need to actually bolster the profession, give them the support that teachers need to do a good job.

BLITZER: But the only teachers they want to hurt are the bad teachers.


BLITZER: They don't want to hurt good teachers.

WEINGARTEN: Except, Wolf, if that's the case, the judge should not have thrown out the rights of every teacher. Good teachers need to be creative. They need to take risks. They need to actually do things that may -- where they may stumble and fall. What this decision did is said to teachers all across the country, don't speak up anymore, don't do -- don't try new things. That's why it's the wrong solution to a problem which is we need to have quality teachers, we need to have great conditions in schools, we need to have high standards, we need to have art and music and wrap-around services.

BLITZER: Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federal of Teachers. We will continue this conversation.

WEINGARTEN: Of course.

BLITZER: This is important stuff.

WEINGARTEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Coming up, new information about the shootout at a Walmart in Las Vegas. Police now releasing new video that reveals some final disturbing moments. We're going live to Las Vegas right after this.


BLITZER: On "This Day in History," 51 years ago, the Alabama governor, George Wallace, stood in the door to block two African- American students from entering the University of Alabama. President John F. Kennedy then placed the Alabama National Guard under federal control. Wallace was then commanded to step aside, allowing the two students to register for class.

New information on the shocking murder of two police officers and a shoot out at a Walmart. Police in Las Vegas just held the news conference in Las Vegas.

Our Kyung Lah is standing by in Las Vegas.

Kyung, tell us about what happened.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In this news conference, there were quite a few details, and one of the most stunning was the surveillance tape that was released. I want to explain what you're about to see because we're only going to play it once. It's about 17 seconds long. And the video you're about to see, the two people who are identified as the gunman. The man is Jared Miller. He's further away from the video screen. Closer to the screen is his wife, Amanda Miller. They are cornered in the Walmart. They have debris around them. They tried to barricade themselves from the police. Jared Miller has already been shot. Take a look at this video. And what you're seeing is his wife lifts her pistol and he is holding

it up to him. It appears that she is about to fire and shoot him, but she does not. Officers say you are not looking at any weapons being discharged between these two. She then turns the weapon towards herself. The video fades to black as she shoots herself in the head.

So why did police release this video? They want people to understand that she did not shoot her husband as they first reported in their news conference and that officers initially did think that happened because it certainly appears that way.

There is a lot of video evidence, officers say. They don't want to release it all because it is so detailed and so violent.

Another thing that we learned, Wolf, is that there was prior contact, three instances where Las Vegas police officers came across this couple twice. They were witnesses in various crimes. And another one was that Jared Miller did call into the Indiana DMV out of rage. He said something. The counterterrorism detectives in this area went to his apartment because of the report that he had said he would shoot anyone who came to take his license. They determined, Wolf, that he was not an immediate threat in that encounter in February of 2014.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting for us. A horrific story.

Thanks very much.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Representatives from more than 100 countries are meeting in London. They're looking at ways to protect children from sexual violence during times of conflict. The summit is headlines by the actress, the activist, Angelina Jolie.

Our Christiane Amanpour spoke with Angelina Jolie. She says she was moved to act after hearing from so many other victims around the world.


ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: For me, it was time and again meeting young girls, boys, and women who could talk about all of their pains but privately become very emotional about what had happened to them. They couldn't tell that the child was a child of rape or -- they simply couldn't function and they carried this deep shame and deep pain.


BLITZER: Angelina Jolie also talked about some other subjects. Here is what she said about a possible Hillary Clinton bid for president in 2016.


JOLIE: Of course, it would be wonderful to see her run. I think whoever is president should be the best person for the job regardless.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So you don't think it's time to have a female president of the United States?

JOLIE: I think it's certainly time but I don't think it's reason to vote for somebody, either. So I will -- But I, of course, would love to see it at some point and it is coming at some point. It will happen and you can feel it and it will be a wonderful thing.


BLITZER: The summit to protect the young children from sexual violence during conflicts runs until this Friday.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." Lots of news coming up. The latest on the political bombshell here in Washington, Eric Cantor's defeat in the Republican primary. Much more on Chuck Hagel's testimony on Bergdahl.

NEWSROOM with Pamela Brown starts right now.