Members of the country’s largest teachers union are revolting against the union’s plan to officially endorse Hillary Clinton within the next few days. Many argue the group should endorse Bernie Sanders, or stay out of the endorsement game altogether.
The National Education Association (NEA), close to 3 million members strong, is about to endorse Clinton for president, even though the first primaries are months away and new candidates like Joe Biden may enter the race, an email obtained by Politico revealed Tuesday.
The union’s political arm, NEA PAC, is pushing the Clinton endorsement, the email shows. And NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is lobbying union officials hard to acquiesce.
If the PAC chooses Clinton in an expected vote Thursday, the NEA Board of Directors would vote on the matter Friday. Many teachers are deeply upset, saying the union’s endorsement is being given away too early, too easily, and perhaps to the wrong candidate entirely.
Rather than meaningfully surveying members, the NEA’s endorsement of Clinton appears to have simply been determined by the union’s top brass acting on their own.
The rhetoric of the leaked email indicates there’s no policy reason for choosing Clinton so early. The NEA appears to simply regard her as the most electable Democrat, and therefore wants to get on her good side sooner rather than later.
“Clinton is the best positioned candidate to win both the Democratic primary and general election,” the email sent from the union’s campaign office says. “She has unmatched organizational strength, ground game, and fundraising ability to defeat the candidate of the Koch brothers.”
The NEA hopes by acting early it can “play a significant role in the next administration’s conversation and decision-making about public education,” the email adds.
The Sanders campaign is already saying they were never given a fair shot by the NEA. A campaign representative told Politico Clinton received a special phone interview with the NEA’s board of directors — an opportunity Sanders didn’t get.
Teacher and education blogger Steven Singer backed up the campaign’s claim, saying the process was apparently intended to build support for her rather than truly evaluate whether she warranted an endorsement.
Citing unnamed sources inside the NEA, Singer said questions to Clinton during the interview were apparently pre-screened, and the post-call discussion was limited to a handful of people who spoke very favorable of Clinton.
The move to get in Clinton’s good graces early may be inspired by the union’s experience with Barack Obama. The NEA only endorsed him after he won the the Democratic nomination, and teachers unions have been extremely frustrated with the subsequent Obama presidency. They feel he has been too willing to embrace reforms the unions strongly oppose, such as encouraging charter schools and linking teacher pay to test scores.
Already, some state-level members of the NEA are dissenting. The Vermont branch of the organization officially endorsed Sanders in June, and the New Jersey branch announced it will strongly oppose endorsing any candidate at this time. The Massachusetts branch also said it will oppose any endorsement at this time, and that most of its members appear to oppose such a move. The Nebraska branch joined in Wednesday, explicitly condemning the push to quickly endorse Clinton.
“We are concerned that an early recommendation does not allow members to be participants in a real debate around the issues that are still unfolding,” Nebraska State Education Association president Nancy Fulton said in a statement Wednesday. “A recommendation this early in the process is premature.”
Teachers who support Sanders say he’s far ahead of Clinton in terms of seeking what teachers most want.
The backlash is similar to that seen during the summer, when the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s other major national teachers union, made waves by endorsing Clinton.
That endorsement also outraged many rank-and-file members who felt bypassed, and annoyed other unions that argued there had been a general agreement to hold off on endorsing Clinton.