By: Heather Poland
I was excited to learn that as a California State Delegate I would be able to participate in the conference call with CTA and Lily Eskelsen Garcia about the imminent primary endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
I, as many colleagues, am upset that this is a possibility. I emailed my NEA board reps, many of whom agreed with me. I encouraged members from other states to also email their NEA board members. I was looking forward to the conference call, though I was under no false hope that anything said would change Lily’s mind. I wanted to hear her words from her mouth, and hopefully ask a good question that other members and CTA board members would hear and, hopefully, think about.
The first 15 minutes were Lily speaking, defending why she wants to early endorse Hillary. The overall message I got from her was that she is scared. She mentioned many times that others had called the NEA irrelevant after the last presidential campaign because NEA did not endorse during the primary. Lily believes that a primary endorsement equals a seat at the “inner circle” table. Personally, I don’t believe this at all. The education reformers have money. They use their money to buy policy. Does Lily really think that endorsing during the primary will make the candidate listen and follow through with our recommendations? Money talks. Hillary is already influenced by Broad and Gates. Why would she suddenly change her views and do what is right for education when there is money pouring in from other places, and the dialogue now that so many civil rights groups also buy into is that of more testing and ed reform.
Why aren’t we making the candidates work for us instead of being scared that we won’t have a “seat at the table”? Don’t endorse anyone until they prove that they are 100% against corporate ed reform. That would be badass. The NEA isn’t irrelevant because we didn’t endorse during the last primary. The NEA is irrelevant because it doesn’t push politicians to do the right thing. Why not come out with a statement that says the NEA will not endorse ANYONE who is in favor of high stakes testing and horrible policy such as Race to the Top? That would show power. That would show leadership from NEA.
Another argument Lily gave was that Bernie would never be able to raise enough funds to counter the Koch-Republican candidate because he will not take dollars from Super PACs. So basically, Lily is scared that a Republican candidate will win. I felt that way once, back when I voted for Obama, twice. While Obama has done some great things, he is not everything I had hoped for, and definitely fell VERY short in education. I refuse to act on fear. The NEA should also not act, or react, based on fear. The NEA could be shaping education policy, but instead, it is cow-towing to corporate ed reformers. Bernie Sanders is raising a lot of money from small donors, and will continue to do so. No, he will not have as much money as Koch, but people are sick and tired of billionaires funding candidates.
The NEA is alienating its members, and this is especially bad in light of the Friedrich’s case. If they win, California will lose agency fees. This means that people could opt to NOT pay into the union. As it is now, teachers do NOT have to join the union, but they do still pay a fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining. This fee does NOT include political contributions a fact that many people don’t know. Political contributions are voluntary. Teachers who opt not to join the union still benefit from our collective bargaining. Without the dues from every teacher, that capability would be reduced greatly, and we would see the quality of education decline further. With the NEA pushing for this primary endorsement, many members I have spoken to, who are pro-union, would want to pull all their support from the union.
Eric Heins, CTA president, told u that there was a poll of general members between September 16th and September 21st. He said it was random, though didn’t offer any details or say how big the sample size was. He stated that the results from that showed, Hillary Clinton 41% support, Bernie Sanders 24%, and Joe Biden with 14%. Without Biden, Hillary’s support grew to 47% and Bernie’s to 33%. Personally, I would like to know more about this poll. I don’t know any members who were polled, and I would love to know if anyone was actually polled. I would also like to know what the sample size was. Eric Heins also said that CTA leaders were polled, but I know of at least one who said she was never polled.
Several questions were taken, and Terry Pesta, from San Diego Retired Education Association asked a great question. He asked, “If we endorse for primary, and that candidate doesn’t win, doesn’t that hurt us?”
Lily seemed to think it wouldn’t hurt us. She wants us in Hillary’ “inner circle” and thinks that if Bernie Sanders won the primary, we would, of course, put our support behind him. But wouldn’t that alienate us from him just a bit? Supporting Hillary until she doesn’t win is a standard political move that makes sense to many large organizations. But what if it alienates us from Bernie? Why not be badass, and come out with a statement about why we are NOT endorsing ANY candidate at this time?
I was called to ask my question as well: “Why are we endorsing anyone instead of telling the candidates we won’t endorse until they are 100% against corporate ed reform. Hillary is “in” with Broad and Gates.”
Lily’s response was that she wasn’t sure what “in with” Broad and Gates meant. She also went on to say that people within NEA have taken money from Gates, and some see it as just using that money. When I went to NEA RA in 2014, there was an NBI about NOT taking ANY money from Gates. That was “sent to committee” which is code for, “sent to die”. In 2015 a similar NBI was brought forward, and did not pass. It is pretty clear that Lily has no problem with accepting money from Gates.
She also asked, “would there be anyone we support if we were to stay pure?” That statement was also very telling to me. She has sold NEA out. NEA could be a progressive organization, and that is something many were hoping for under Lily Eskelsen Garcia, but we are not. She is too scared of being seen as a coward. Ironic.