Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A disappointing endorsement.

The NEA/WEA endorsement of Dave Reichert seems, on the surface, to be a payback for the Sheriff's pre-election shift on their legislative agenda. After compiling a 50% record by the NEA's measure in 2005-2006, he was awarded an A grade in 2007, voting in favor of 9 of the NEA's 13 targeted votes. And yes, an A for 69% does sound like either serious grade inflation since my undergraduate days or a distressfully weak curve.

Of course, judging a member of Congress like Reichert by his final passage votes is problematic in the first place. As Daniel Kirdorffer's exhaustive analysis of Reichert's legislative history on six key votes (including three the NEA credits him for getting right) demonstrates, Reichert is given license to follow the political wind on final passage time and again in return for his reliable efforts to weaken progressive legislation in committee and participate in Republican procedural obstructionism.

It's worth noting the issues where Reichert and the NEA diverge, too. They're not inconsequential. They include Medicare and Head Start funding, organizing and collective bargaining rights and merit pay. Part of the NEA has always been a little uncomfortable with the "labor union" tag, but they represent teachers across the nation as a collective bargaining unit and they have a history of pitched organizing battles with rivals like the AFT (AFL-CIO). How they grant their highest grade to a Congressman with a record of opposition to basic rights to organize and bargain collectively is something of a mystery.

Likewise the Head Start issue. Though Reichert bravely lined up with 380 other members of the House to vote for final passage of H.R. 1429, his efforts to weaken the legislation went beyond the committee room and onto the House floor itself - as the NEA's own legislative ratings show. As on so many issues, he's a friend of education when it doesn't count.

Of course, there's a larger context in which Reichert's record can be viewed, one that's relevant to the NEA's role as the collective bargaining agent for so many teachers in so many places. There's the 54% rating from the AFL-CIO in 2007, up from 23% in 2006, another impending election comeback. Here in my local school district, teachers work side by side with support staff represented by the Service Employees International Union. Reichert's made some gains there, going from a 0% record in 2005 to 52% in 2007. Again, nothing seems to focus Reichert's attention like an impending hanging election.

To their credit, neither the AFL-CIO nor the SEIU have been fooled by these latter-day kind-of conversions. They're both firmly in the Darcy Burner camp (along with the American Federation of Teachers.) The NEA/WEA may be hedging their bets, rewarding Reichert's marginal improvement with an endorsement in hopes of future favors if he should squeak through in November, knowing that a Burner victory will insure a progressive pro-education voice and vote regardless of their actions. It's a somewhat shameful explanation (can you spell 'betrayal,' brothers and sisters?) but about the only honest one save unforgivable ignorance.

Hat tip to Project Vote Smart for the issue ratings.

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