Missouri state Rep. Mike Lair, a Republican, never thought a joke about tinfoil hats would stir a national controversy. But the lawmaker's unusual appropriation – regarding some opponents of the Common Core education standards – drew national derision.
“I didn't expect it to get national attention at all,” Lair told TheBlaze. “I received 250 emails from all over the country this weekend and I answered every one of them.”
In the interview, Lair, the Republican chairman of the state House Education Committee, said he wasn't mocking all Common Core critics when he proposed an amendment to appropriate $8 “two rolls of high density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology.” The amendment was voted out of his committee, but hasn't cleared the budget committee yet.
He pointed out that he sponsored two successful bills to curb the K-12 math and English standards that were designed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers and supported by the Obama administration. Missouri is among 45 states that have adopted the standards.
Lair taught government for 38 years and said in both the classroom and the legislature he routinely uses jokes.
“In the classroom, when logic doesn't work, you use humor,” Lair said. “Evidently a lot of folks don't have a sense of humor.”
He later added, “The tin foil was not meant to ridicule anyone.”
Whether it was out of humor or spite, his desk in the legislative chamber was covered in aluminum foil the day after his amendment garnered national attention. Lair said he doesn't know who did it.
Lair said being a conservative is not something that comes and goes, pointing to his award from the American Conservative Union.
“I am a proud conservative. Trust me, I do not want President Obama and other liberals to hijack the education curriculum,” Lair said. “I was trying to interject levity into a conversation that had gone past the point of logic and veered well into 'black chopper country.' It was in that spirit that other members of the House jokingly wrapped my desk in tin foil.”
Lair associated his views on Common Core with that of Mike Huckabee, a former GOP Arkansas governor and current Fox News host.
“It's not the worst thing in the world but it's not going to save education,” he said. “It's somewhere in between.”
He explained that he researched Common Core and all of the complaints against it. He said that the only legitimate concerns he found regarded sharing student data with the federal government and a uniform curriculum and text books for all school districts. His pushed two bills through the legislature to address these concerns.
One bill prevents student data gathering through Common Core.
The other bill prevents the Missouri Department of Education and Secondary Education from mandating curriculum or text books to local districts. After that, he didn't see a problem with the standards.
“I just didn't see the facts to go with what the critics were talking about,” he said. “Most of their research looked like it came from the Internet. I'm not being negative. These are good people who believe this. But some of it was alarmist.”
Further, he said he did not support repealing the Common Core standards in the state.
“Teachers worked for several years on implementing these,” he said. “A lot of work has gone into this. To defund it now, I don't think is a good idea.”