Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman



The Twinky Strategy


Revealed here: The GUV's secret plan to hand the GOP its lunch on "tax reform."



TO: Bill Leighty, Chief of Staff
FR: Ellen Qualls, Press Secretary
RE: Having our "tax reform" cake and eating it too.

As usual, Paul Goldman's recent column on our "tax reform" missed the point, something the GUV and the rest of us predicted would happen. It proves what Belle Wheelan, the education secretary, has been saying: A health-food guy like Goldman will never appreciate our Twinkie Strategy for passing "tax reform."

Unless, of course, he happens to read working paper #9319 of the National Bureau of Economic Research, entitled "Food For Thought: The Effects of School Accountability Plans on School Nutrition."

That's right: The NBER put our strategy on their website. All you have to is log-on to the NBER website, put 9319 into the Google search engine and you come up with the paper, plus a quick synopsis entitled Eating Your Way to Higher Test Scores saying, "School districts that increased calories on test days experienced increases in 5th grade pass rates of 11, 6, and 6 percent respectively on the mathematics, English, and history/social studies tests."

Calm down Bill, stuff happens. Still, Mame Reilly and Paul Reagan say not to worry, no General Assembly member will ever connect this paper to our "Tax reform" strategy. Bill Thomas, Alan Diamonstein, and Jimmy Hazel agree. If they don't know how a legislator thinks, then who does? Those guys buy them breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the time.

So, lets not panic. Let me review how we decided on our strategy, how it works, and why I believe we should stay the course.

As you know, the governor asked us at a cabinet meeting not long ago to map a strategy to get the General Assembly to enact his "tax reform" proposal.

So, naturally, the senior staff took Secretary Wheelan to lunch at the Governor's Mansion. Educating legislators is not easy, so we were hungry for new ideas.

Anyway, after lunch, we sat around and brainstormed. Bill, I got to tell, we were cooking with gas, ideas flying back and forth. We were pumped.

Finally, Belle said, "We are really on our game today."

"It must have been the strawberries," quipped Secretary of the Commonwealth Anita Rimler, doing her imitation of Humphrey Bogart in his last great role, that of Captain Queeg from Herman Wouk's novel.

At which point Belle said: "Of course, the food!"

The rest of us looked at each other, not knowing what Belle meant. We watched as she ran down to the kitchen and talked to the Mansion Chef.

Upon her return, she was carrying a tray with a huge chocolate cake, four gallons of Rocky Road ice-cream and a big jar filled with double-fudge cookies. Plus a quart of chocolate syrup.

"What's all that for?" asked Transportation Secretary Whitt Clement. Health and Human Services Secretary Jane Woods seemed puzzled too, having just come for a meeting with Goldman where he was challenging us about the deals between local school districts and junk food companies.

Belle smiled and then declared: "This is our strategy for passing tax reform!"

Secretary of Administration Sandy Bowen seemed to understand immediately, having lobbied the General Assembly for ten years before joining the cabinet. "You go girl!" she said to Belle.

Frankly, I admit to being skeptical at first. But my assistant, Kevin Hall, logged onto and soon found an article entitled "Eating for success." Now I know why Prime Minister Blair was the only one smart enough to stick with the US on the Iraq War.

Belle's plan is rather ingenious. The governor has told us time and time again that state legislators act like children most of the time, with about the same attention span to substantive things as your average fifth grader.

Belle said several studies showed you could raise SAT scores by increasing the level of glucose in high school seniors by changing their lunch menu prior to taking the exam.

So, she naturally asked: If such lunch manipulation could work to boost SAT brainpower, why not SOL's that we give fifth graders?

We all immediately got her point: If it could work on fifth graders, then why not General Assembly members, especially those the GUV feels are...well...out to lunch, so to speak.

Under the USDA School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children, schools must meet nutritional guidelines over a seven-day period. So we got Finance Secretary Bennett to snooker the feds into giving us a free lunch: Uncle Sugar agreed to pick up the check for funding a study of 23 randomly selected Virginia school districts to see if this lunch manipulation theory worked.
AND IT DID. An analysis of working paper #9319 concluded:

"In Food For Thought: The Effects of School Accountability Plans on School Nutrition" (NBER Working Paper No. 9319), authors David Figlio and Joshua Winicki examine whether [some VA] schools exploit a ... subtle method to increase test scores: changing their lunch menus...  Figlio and Winicki [found] that ...[i]n those districts, school lunches averaged 863 calories during testing periods, 761 calories before, and 745 calories after. Though calories increased, nutrients did not. Nor was the calorie increase a result of serving students their favorite meals -- pizza, cheeseburgers, and tacos, as measured by sales data -- on test days. School districts that increased calories on test days experienced increases in 5th grade pass rates of 11, 6, and 6 percent respectively on the mathematics, English, and history/social studies tests."

Manna from heaven!

That proved it, Bill: The key to our "tax reform" plan was less logic and more Twinkies!

We must have been clueless not to see it before.

Since the average member of the General Assembly was a poor performer in elementary school, Belle was confident her plan would work perfectly.

Then Commerce Secretary Mike Schewel piped in: "Of course! This is just like Reagan's Food For Progress program passed in 1985."

He was referring to the 1985 creation of the program we use to help poor countries improve their school children's learning ability.

Bill, you got to love the politics here: We are using a Reagan-era style program, overwhelmingly supported by all the Congressional Democrats running for President in 2004, to raise the IQ's, even if only for a day, of the Virginia General Assembly.

This is the best thing since sliced bread ... and, of course, plenty of butter, got to get that calorie intake up!
We know that most legislators eat at Chicken's, the snack shop on the first floor of the Capitol, during the Session, or the cafeteria over at the GA Building.

So our "tax reform" strategy was obvious:

We let the General Assembly members settle into their usual  lunch routine when they return for the 2004 Session. Then, the week before the big vote on the Warner "tax reform" plan, we get Terrorism Czar John Hager to close down Chicken's and the GA lunch room on the pretext a CIA intercept had revealed a possible terrorist plot to poison the GA members as a preliminary test for their planned attack in 2007 on the 400th anniversary of Jamestown.

Huge headlines! Then, like a good guy, the governor offers to prepare GA lunches in the Mansion kitchen and have the staff take them over to the GA.

Great gesture and no way legislators refuse a freebie.

Presto: We control the lunch menu, and those 4 p.m. legislative snacks as they sit on the GA floor debating our "tax reform" plan!

Using the Figlio/Winicki data, we simply increase the caloric intake of the GA until it produces glucose levels that can even make Republican Majority Leader Morgan Griffith think smart, perhaps even Sen. Bill Bolling. True, we will have to prepare special extra boosts for most of the newer GOP legislators since they seem brain-dead, and lower the dose for  Democrats like Sen. Dick Saslaw who know everything already because we don't want to make them into an Einstein.

But generally, using the NBER lunch data, we can manipulate the meals so that the General Assembly will finally be able to appreciate the substance of the governor's tax reform plan, and then vote for it after a week of brainpower-boosting lunches!

Piece of cake!

It worked on 5th graders.  

So why not the General Assembly?

This "tax reform" stuff is easy. All we have to do is hand the GOP their lunch.

-- April 28, 2003


(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2003.


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.


You can reach him at