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Est. April 5, 2002
February 01, 2018 - Issue 727

for the
2018 Mid-terms
Teachers’ Roles

"There has been a re-acknowledgement of the importance
of teachers as reflected in recent gubernatorial, state
legislative, and U.S. Senate races.  The 2017 races for
governor in New Jersey and Virginia relied heavily
on teachers for the Democrats’ solid wins."

Democrats have to get ready to combat the Republicans data analytics for grassroots door-to-door campaigning in 2018. Republicans have invested a billion dollars in replicating the Obama GOTV (Get-Out-The Vote) strategy of 2008 and 2012, and have aggressively recruited minorities and millennials to assist in carrying it out. But the real test is whether Democrats can counter the voter depression schemes the Republicans are quietly implementing or trying to apply across the country—adding a question on citizenship status on the upcoming U.S. census and continuing biased gerrymandering of political districts. Republicans have been successful in deploying one racist anti-voter practice after another since the 2000 presidential election, when they purged tens of thousands of African American and Hispanic voters from the rolls in Florida, manipulated voting precincts, and challenged minority voters registration at the polls, enabling Gov. Jeb Bush’s brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, to win Florida and the presidency by 537 votes, narrowly edging out Vice President Al Gore by 271 to 267 votes in the Electoral College.

In 2004, Ohio’s black Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, orchestrated breakdowns of voting machines in areas with high concentrations of Democratic-leaning African American voters, allowing President George W. Bush to win the state by 119,000 votes which ensured his re-election over Senator John Kerry. Finally in 2008, Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pursued a 50 state strategy, flipping several Republican states to the Democratic column (Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia). Lawyers stood at the ready to contest any voting irregularities which safeguarded Obama victories in 2008 and 2012 although Democrats lost the House of Representatives in 2010. Since that time, they have taken their eyes off the political ball and have lost control of both branches of Congress and the presidency.

They seem to have forgotten their lessons from their success in twice electing Obama, while they are obvious to the casual observer. Teachers were all in for Obama and were the primary foot soldiers in both his campaigns: staffing the phone banks, knocking on doors, dropping literature, and getting voters to the polls. Although he was purportedly behind teachers, one of Obama’s first legislative achievements was Race to the Top (RTTT). It ushered in teacher evaluation using students’ test scores, merit pay, and the unleashing of corporate charter schools which resulted in questionable terminations of hundreds of thousands of teachers and significantly undermined funding for K-12 public education.

However, there has been a re-acknowledgement of the importance of teachers as reflected in recent gubernatorial, state legislative, and U.S. Senate races. The 2017 races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia relied heavily on teachers for the Democrats’ solid wins. New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, a first-time candidate for office, relied on the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the rest of the Democratic base and put the funding of public education and teacher pensions at the top of his policy agenda. In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who won the governor’s race, had long been a stalwart supporter of public education starting as a state senator and has been backed by the Virginia Education Association (VEA). He prevailed in a divisive campaign where his opponent, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ed Gillespie, used race baiting and was aided by our white nationalist President Donald J. Trump. Despite this racial demagoguery, Northam and his slate cruised to victory with Justin Fairfax, an African American, winning as Lt. Governor for only the second time in state history.

Democrats also picked up a large number of seats in the Virginia legislature and elected its first transgender member. Again teachers were lead supporters. Doug Jones’ upset victory over Judge Roy Moore, by the slimmest of margins, for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat was heavily backed by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) that put thousands of boots on the ground. Democrats also won seats in special elections in Oklahoma and Wisconsin in long-held Republican districts, and teachers were also key factors in those unexpected political triumphs. Thus, they have demonstrated in the past and the present that they are important cogs in the Democratic political apparatus. Yet neither Democratic leaders nor teachers themselves seem to understand and appreciate their contributions.

Teacher leaders have been reluctant to demand an equitable quid pro quo for their efforts. Public school funding has declined under both Democrats and Republicans even as teachers have provided the votes for Democratic political success. The Democrats taking teachers for granted has caused disillusionment and lower turnout in a number of elections during the last two midterms, 2014 and 2016. But the rapid negative impacts of Trump and his Republican storm troopers since 2017 have stirred local teachers to increased action as they now realize they are fighting for their professional dignity and livelihoods. Trump has promised $250 million in scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools and $20 billion for school choice measures—vouchers, educational savings accounts, virtual and corporate charter schools, and charter and educational management organizations. And his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has already relaxed regulations and standards for for-profit colleges and universities that prey on low-income students of color, leaving hundreds of thousands with crushing debt and without degrees.

In succession, Trump has come after immigrants, people of color, teachers, and unions with initial limited pushback. If he has his way, minorities will be relegated to “sh*tholes” and whites, except for his one percent colleagues, to indentured servitude. The showdown is nine months away. Teachers need to get ready by demanding that Democrats develop a comprehensive, unifying message and by organizing at the state and local levels to reach the citizens of our great nation. Americans are fundamentally a good people, and Trump has prevailed so far by appealing to their baser instincts. His State of the Union Address last Tuesday took an authoritarian and vile turn when he attacked immigrants in setting a divisive tone. When teachers have gotten their peers and their neighbors out to vote, Democrats win!

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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