Red teachers/Blue unions

By Larry Sand
October 16, 2018

How long will conservative teachers dutifully fund the teacher unions’ leftist political agenda?

As I wrote in July, following the Janus decision, teachers unions had two roads to travel. They could become more politically ecumenical as a way to attract teachers who were no longer required to join, or they could continue to do business as usual. At the time I concluded that there would be no change in their modus operandi.

Three months later, my prediction has been confirmed numerous times. The National Education Association has made 289 endorsements for the U.S. House of Representatives this year, and just 10 were Republicans. And, as Mike Antonucci writes, to get an NEA endorsement, a Republican must satisfy certain specific criteria – running against another Republican, be an incumbent, have a big advantage in voter registration, et al.

The Golden State is even more one-sided. The California Teachers Association has released its voter guide for the November 6th general election, and every candidate for statewide office that the union took a position on – governor, attorney general, treasurer, etc. – is a Democrat. In the State Assembly, CTA endorsed 57 candidates, only one of whom was a Republican. In the State Senate, it was 12 Dems and not one Republican.  For Congress – 43 D and one R. (They were forced to pick Paul Cook in CD 8; he is running against Tim Donnelly, also a Republican, but who is to the right of Cook.)

CTA has also indicated that it would spend up to $10 million on several initiatives on the November ballot. And of course, the propositions they support go against Republican principles. For example, Prop 5 would  allow homeowners age 55 and older to sell their current homes, purchase a replacement property anywhere in the state and transfer the property tax assessment from the home they sold to the home they bought. But CTA dismisses the prop as a “big tax break for the wealthy.” (To be sure, CTA is quite the expert on tax breaks – the union brings in about $185 million a year and doesn’t pay a centavo in taxes on that income.)

CTA’s smaller sibling, the California Federation of Teachers, is no better. At his state-of-the-union address in 2016, CFT President Josh Pechthalt declared, “We must deny Republicans the White House. The next president may appoint more than one Supreme Court justice.” (You didn’t; he did.) In 2018’s address he blathered on about the Trump administration’s policies showing “all the signs of early 1930s Nazi Germany.” He proceeded to endorse uber-liberal Gavin Newsom for governor, insisted that Obamacare didn’t go far enough, declared his devotion to a single payer healthcare system, and asserted that the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives is key to winning the White House in 2020.

So with 100,000 or so right-of-center teachers in the Golden State, and no more forced union dues, how can this continue to happen? The answer is that the union elite can get away with their one-way political spending because right-of-center teachers have shown little if any dissent.

Worth noting is that of the $1,100 or so annual union dues California teachers pay, at least a third goes to politics, which include independent expenditures, lobbying, ballot initiatives, rallies, etc. But much union politicking, however, is not counted as political spending. For example, the current California Educator, a magazine sent bimonthly to members, has a page devoted to political endorsements, but the advocacy in the periodical is not considered political spending.

A few years back, the Manhattan Institute’s Daniel DiSalvo suggested that, as a way to become more responsive to its members, the unions should formalize their political decision-making “by holding referenda to gauge their members’ policy preferences more precisely” and the results should be made public. But this will never materialize until right-of-center teachers step up to the plate and demand better political bang for their buck. Until that happens, the unions will continue to use these passive teachers as ATMs to fund their pet leftist projects. While the Janus decision was a victory for liberty, if one refuses to shed his chains, all the Supreme Court decisions in the world won’t mean a damned thing.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.