Following months of publicity focusing on the "crisis" in education, Jim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association, probably enjoys as high a name and face recognition as any elected official in Utah - including the governor.
Yet contrary to politicians' open-book lives, only a handful of Utahns really know the person behind the voice that speaks for more than 17,000 Utah teachers.Who is this man who today is politically powerful enough to avert or cause a statewide teachers' strike? How did he rise to fame - only to find himself in the state's hottest political seat?
Campbell, 44, is a home-grown guy, who was born in Provo and still wears a blue school ring from Brigham Young University, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees. He's a former Democrat turned staunch Republican, whose office shelf harbors several miniature model elephants that overlook a bust of President John F. Kennedy - his true idol. It was personally given to him by Sen. Robert Kennedy during a campaign stint days before his assassination.
He's a self-declared "part-time" father of four, ages 9 to 19, whose Orem home has been transformed into an athletes' locker room since his only daughter left for Ricks College.
He's an art teacher on leave from the Provo School District who gratefully credits the recent teachers' controversy with preventing him from attending parent-teacher conferences where he hears, "Your kid sure isn't perfect."
He's a concerned parent who wants all Utah students to be well prepared to enter today's technological workplace upon graduation from high school. He's a man who sincerely wants to make a difference - a goal he's harbored since youth.
Campbell's early ambition was to either become a medical doctor and find a cure for diabetes (a disease his mother suffered), or a veterinarian.
While his passion was art, his roots were in education.
5000+v Left fatherless at age 10 (his father was killed in an automobile accident), Campbell was reared by his mother, who worked as a teacher both in Utah and then California, where she directed the Head Start program in Watts, during the famous racial riots.
"I keep thinking if she survived the Watts riots, I can survive this (strike issue)," said Campbell during an interview in his UEA office, where clever memorabilia (including a host of hats once needed to cover his bald head) offer an insight into the fun-loving man who often irks people in high places.
Campbell was introduced to teaching while working side-by-side with his mother, teaching art to severely handicapped children during the summers.
But his real love of the profession didn't develop until he was called to an LDS mission to Peru and Bolivia, where Campbell taught poverty-stricken children to read and write English.
He witnessed the rewards of teaching. Only later, however, would he realize many of the challenges.
Teachers need an advocate
It was while teaching art in the Provo School District that Campbell discovered that teachers, hindered by large classes and low salaries, were sorely in need of a leader - someone to stand up for them and their students.
He learned how tenuous their positions were when his own job was threatened when then Provo District Superintendent John Bennion (now Salt Lake School District superintendent), had to eliminate one art teacher.
Threatened with the loss of his own job (Campbell had the least seniority), he overnight became a vocal advocate for himself and his colleagues.
For 2 1/2 years as UEA president, he has led their uphill battle for better salaries and supplies, smaller classes equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
"Be Prepared" is Campbell's UEA re-election motto and advice he offers to all Utahns awaiting the outcome of Friday's strike vote.
Hopes to avert strike
Campbell, who's been seen on Capitol Hill almost every day of the session, hopes to avert a strike.
"There has been so much focus on striking that even I am tired of it, so I know legislators are sick to death of it," Campbell said. "You can only get someone in a corner and keep them there so long. The governor and legislators have been working with us, but they are not going to keep living with this threat."
What concerns Campbell most is the possible negative fallout from a strike: poor public and student perception of teachers.
"Public support will be dependent upon which side they believe if we go out on a strike," he said. "If they believe the Legislature has done everything possible and we are asking for too much, we are not going to have a lot of public support."
No more aspirin
During the September strike, Campbell believes the governor's animosity toward frustrated teachers (Bangerter told them to "take a couple of aspirins and get back to work") gained educators public support.
"But he's not going to say that this time. He's not a slow student at all."
Campbell, who some accuse of having an ego as large as his stature, is confident he could provoke a strike. But he doesn't know if he can stop one.
"If the majority of members say that's what they want to do, I have no choice but to support them. I said to the House leadership today, `I am a politician every bit as much as you are and I understand the pressures on you. You need to understand ultimately I have to do what my constituents want me to do.' "