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November 14, 2005

1)  Reading the Post-Election Tea Leaves in California. There were a lot of obvious lessons, busted myths and conventional wisdom that came out of last Tuesday's special election in California. But here are a few incidentals, inspired by various newspaper stories:

* Defense vs. Offense – The San Francisco Chronicle's post-election editorial sang of "the power of labor united." Well, yes, but the circumstances favored the unions. They had the "no" side – always an easier sell with initiatives. They were operating in the bluest of blue states. Their voting strength was in the largest and bluest population centers of that state. And they had a bottomless well of money from which to draw.

That's not an indictment of the unions. It's a simple fact of life for anyone who thinks the righteousness of his arguments will be enough to carry the day in California. It took the state's public employee unions decades to fashion this amount of political clout. It won't be undone with a magic wand. Sorry to say: The union fortress in California is unassailable.

But when the unions venture outside the fortress they run into trouble. The California Teachers Association twice aborted a property tax initiative after spending millions of dollars. CTA was humiliated by its own legislative allies after pushing a bill to expand the scope of collective bargaining. CTA disparaged Gov. Gray Davis and was rewarded with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

To use a football metaphor: CTA has an impregnable defense but a weak offense. Which leads us to…

* Arnold and the California GOP – An Associated Press headline screams, "Republicans Blame Schwarzenegger." That's chutzpah for you. This is a party that can't get anyone elected to statewide office and is heading for Hawaii levels in number of Republicans in the legislature -- despite gerrymandering. The only reason Arnold called a special election is because his party is too weak to do anything in the state, and the other party wouldn't cut a deal. He had one arrow in his quiver – his undeniable charisma – and he shot it. It got him nothing but a 30-point drop in approval ratings.

Without him, the California GOP has nothing. Fortunately, the governor still wields the veto pen, which should be enough to prevent any further raid on the state treasury.

* Democrats (State and National) – California Democrats merely waited on the sidelines while the unions did what they do best: drop the big hammer. They come out of the election as the ostensible winners, but they are more beholden to the public employee unions than ever. Those who decried that influence will shut up. And it seems to have had a national effect as well. The Hill reports that the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, intermittently critical of organized labor, is starting to make nice.

* Incorrect Inference -- Today's Sacramento Bee notes the stream of politicians visiting CTA's Sacramento office and comes to this conclusion: "The group raised dues and spent more than $50 million attacking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the special election campaign. Two days after the election, it appeared that the union wasn't begging for cash but rather looking for people to spend it on next year."

The two actions are not connected. CTA has two PACs. The Issues PAC is the one that spent $50 million and was supported by the special dues increase. The Candidate PAC is supported by $15.91 from every member's paycheck each year and that money is contributed to candidates for legislative and state offices. The two accounts are segregated and the status of one does not affect the other.

* Interesting Irony – The November 10 Los Angeles Times devoted 2,400 words of a Column One story to a profile of 2004 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year, and CTA campaign commercial star, Liane Cismowski ("Reluctant Warrior Bests Gov."), without finding the room to mention that she is a member of the executive board of the Mt. Diablo Education Association. Might have made her seem a little less reluctant, I guess.

But the story did provide an interesting, if unintentionally ironic, anecdote. It seems Ms. Cismowski was so compelling on television that she received a letter from the Screen Actors Guild, inviting her to join. She turned it down, in part, she said, because of the $100 fee.

Yes, it's great to live in a state where you can work without having to pay coercive union fees when you don't want to.

2)  It Went the Other Way in Ohio. Lost amidst the union victories in California was the defeat of the four Reform Ohio Now initiatives. The Ohio Education Association contributed at least $200,000 and a lot of manpower in support of the measures regarding elections, redistricting and political action committees. It isn't clear whether that spending was in addition to, or part of, a $450,000 grant the union received from NEA for the purpose.

OEA tried to put a happy face on the defeat, but the Ohio election did illustrate how different the outcomes can be – even on the same day – if the state itself is politically competitive.

3)  Miami-Dade Union Drops Suit Against Whistleblower. When the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) reached a settlement with former president Pat Tornillo over the repayment of some of the dues he appropriated for his personal use, it received coverage in the Miami Herald. But there hasn't been a peep about UTD and the American Federation of Teachers dropping their lawsuit against former UTD Chief Financial Officer James Angleton Jr., the man who called in the FBI when he discovered Tornillo's crimes.

After the FBI raid and the establishment of an AFT administratorship, Angleton was suspended without pay – even though at the time Tornillo was still collecting a paycheck. The union subsequently filed suit against Angleton, claiming it was the victim of Angleton's "professional negligence" for not ferreting out Tornillo's misappropriations sooner.

That charge was an obvious frivolity, since Tornillo's escapades were the subject of numerous reports on local television, and UTD was many months delinquent in paying its state and national dues because of its financial troubles. Angleton has moved on, and is currently the senior vice president of Hemisphere National Bank in Miami.

4)  Now Illinois Membership Numbers Add Up. Two weeks ago, EIA noted a disparity in the Illinois Education Association's membership numbers reported in the union's U.S. Department of Labor LM-2 reports over the past two years. The reason for the difference still isn't clear, but at least we can now examine some very recent and absolutely reliable numbers.

As of October 17, 2005, the Illinois Education Association had 82,939 full-time active professionals, 3,564 part-time active professionals, 20,003 full-time education support employees and 3,257 part-time education support employees, for a grand total of 109,763 working members. The union has an additional 10,000 retirees, students and fee-payers.

Fifty-three of the union's 66 regional districts lost members during the seven-week period of August 31-October 17.

5)  Which Is It? Headline in November 13 San Jose Mercury News: "Schools look abroad to find needed teachers." Key quote: "If we need to recruit teachers from overseas, that says something about the state of the profession here in the United States," said Donald Washington, a program analyst in NEA's teacher quality department. "We need to raise salaries, improve working conditions and do more to retain teachers."

Headline in November 12 Los Angeles Daily News: "Struggling to land teaching jobs." Key quote: "I'd heard so many things that California needs teachers so badly and I thought it would be pretty easy to find a job if I did well in my studies," said Janae Simmons, who applied to two dozen school districts before getting a job in Burbank after a five-month job search.

6)  NEA VP Says "A Lot" of Conservatives Support NEA. National Education Association Vice President Dennis Van Roekel told Radio Iowa that "a lot" of conservatives support NEA. "I think they see within the National Education Association that we do advocate for children," Van Roekel said. "(Conservatives) don't always agree with each and every position we take or tactic but I think they recognize that the people who are our members and what they do each and every day is work with children each and every day, and that's important."

Since 50 percent of NEA members describe themselves as conservative, Van Roekel probably feels he's on solid ground here. But they would have to be the most masochistic conservatives on the planet. Take a peek at this Google search of "conservatives" on NEA.org and enjoy all the respectful and open-minded references therein.

7)  Thanks for Your Responses. Thanks to all of you who accepted my invitation to comment on EIA, either via e-mail or on Intercepts. Your thoughts are most welcome and I appreciate each and every one.

8)  Quote of the Week. "My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program. Whatever I've achieved, I've achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us." – high school student Jim Munch, relating his battle against his school's constructivist math program. (November 9 New York Times)

 

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