1) NEA's True Service to Democrats:
Incumbency Insurance. There is no question that
last Tuesday's election results came as close to a total victory for the
National Education Association as one could possibly expect. Its
presidential candidate won an electoral landslide. Its Democratic majorities
grew stronger in both houses of Congress. Of all the ballot initiatives
across the country that received NEA and affiliate support, I could find
only three in which the union side was defeated. Two of these occurred in
California – Prop 8 (gay marriage) and Prop 9 (crime victims' rights). Both
passed despite opposition from the California Teachers Association, but
neither has a direct effect on public education or organized labor. The only
other defeat was the passage of Amendment 54 in Colorado, which bans
political contributions by contractors or organizations that do business
with the government. A court challenge has already been filed.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel lauded
the victories. "NEA members
played a vital role in critical congressional races across the country that
helped expand margins in the House and Senate for pro-public education
allies," he said in a press statement. "As a bipartisan organization, the
National Education Association was pleased to return many friends from both
sides of the aisle to Congress and elect new ones as a part of a growing
you parse that last sentence, you get NEA "as a bipartisan organization"
being pleased about "a growing Democratic majority."
everyone else, NEA believes its "vital role" requires some form of
compensation. Merit pay, you might call it. And there are already
fights in the blogosphere about how well-deserved it is.
I don't find
persuasive the argument that the efforts of NEA, or any other union, were so
far superior this election cycle than previous ones that it resulted in an
Obama victory or additional seats. But it is indisputable that NEA played a
"vital role." It's just not the role you might believe.
political action committee will laud its 79% success rate in electing
recommended candidates. You have to go inside the numbers for the real
story. While some of the results may change, for the purposes of this
article I am going to assume that whichever candidate is ahead right now in
the too-close-to-call races will end up winning.
The NEA Fund
for Children and Public Education recommended 328 candidates for Congress,
of whom 260 won. It's impressive, but not that impressive.
Of those 328
candidates, 230 were incumbents, of whom 39 ran unopposed. NEA's record in
those races was 226 wins and 4 losses, dropping only Florida 16th, Kansas
2nd, Pennsylvania 3rd and Texas 22nd.
recommended 38 candidates for open seats, and its record in those races was
20 wins and 18 losses.
recommended 60 challengers, and its record in those races was 14 wins and 46
losses, which was actually better than usual.
When people criticize the teachers'
unions as being defenders of the status quo, they generally mean the status
quo as it applies to education policy and labor affairs. It seems, however,
that NEA's power and influence among Democrat politicians (and some
Republicans) is due to its defense of the political status quo. For example,
virtually all of its ballot initiative victories were on the "no" side.
The union's ability to capture open
seats or defeat incumbents is no better than that of many other special
interest groups. There is little reason for a new candidate to seek out NEA
support instead of support from other ideologically compatible groups. But
once elected, staying on NEA's good side is a path to easy money and
campaign support for a friendly politician.
With Democrat incumbents impervious, the
battles continue to be fought over marginal GOP seats. When these are lost
with some regularity, some safe GOP seats inch over to the marginal column
and you end up with decades-long Democratic majorities in Congress.
2) NEA Officers Really Worked the
Last week, EIA noted the efforts of NEA Vice President Lily
Eskelsen to win over the key Ethiopian cab driver bloc in both Colorado and
Minnesota. The union has since corrected the story, although you can
still read the original via Google cache.
No sooner was this
settled when I received the November/December 2008 issue of the ISEA
Communiqué (no relation), the organ of the Iowa State Education
Association. In it, ISEA President Chris Bern wrote a column with the
understated headline, "This election determines your future."
Most of the column
details Bern's encounter with a Des Moines taxi driver and their discussion
about teacher quality and pay. Bern was upset with himself because the
cabbie claimed to be a lifelong Democrat, but "couldn't vote for anyone who
was going to raise taxes."
"It was at that moment,"
Bern wrote, "that I realized I have been living in education isolation. For
the past three months, almost all of my conversations about the election
have been with people who work in education. I have my education talking
points about Barack Obama down pat, and since the caucuses I really hadn't
paid much attention to issues other than education. I was reasonably sure
that Obama was not advocating for raising everyone's taxes, but I didn't
want to make any misstatements either."
discussion never turned to Ethiopia.
The cabbie conversation
is a well-worn journalistic tradition, but I wasn't sure where NEA picked it
Until I saw this.
3) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from November 3-10:
The Return of Hans Moleman! Now more than ever.
Obamoney. "Seeing government as the most effective solution" for our
problems. Apparently Marty Hittelman has never mailed a letter or visited
Next Secretary of Education? Who Cares? Who created NCLB? Hint: It
wasn't Rod Paige.
4) Quote of the Week #1.
"Doesn't make any difference who controls Congress, who's in the White
House. The government just grows and grows, remorselessly. Every two years,
the voters walk out of their town halls and school gyms and tell the exit
pollsters that three-quarters of them are "moderates" or "conservatives"
(i.e., the center and the right) and barely 20 per cent are "liberals." And
then, regardless of how the vote went, big government just resumes its
inexorable growth…. It's hard for Republicans to hammer Obama as a socialist
when their own party's nationalizing the banks and its presidential nominee
is denouncing the private sector for putting profits before patriotism." –
Mark Steyn. (November 8
National Review Online)
Quote of the
"We've had nearly three decades to educate the electorate about freedom,
responsibility, and the evils of collectivism, and we responded by creating
a big-city-public-school-system of a learning environment." – P.J. O'Rourke