The Deseret News' political editor, Bob Bernick, seems to enjoy writing "let's you and him fight" stories seeking to spark tension between teachers and Republican legislators.
In my experience as president of the Davis Education Association, Utah Education Association vice president and UEA president, educators have worked hard to build a very strong and effective political action program in behalf of teachers and patrons of the public school system.I am pleased that many politicians, along with Bernick, perceive that educators are indeed a political force with which to be reckoned. But the Deseret News missed both the significance of the effort as well as the contribution teachers have made to responsible political involvement by thousands of Utahns who are not teachers.
The charge is often made that teachers have no business participating in election politics and that their activism is somehow a manipulation of the political system. Nonsense! Teachers are voters and taxpayers - just like everyone else, and teachers are every bit as concerned about good, economical and efficient government.
Virtually every decision which affects the quality of education in Utah is a political decision, and most of those political decisions are made at the Legislature.
Educators have had to learn how to be influential in politics, and the school system would be a shambles today if teachers had stood by and watched while their detractors cut education budgets in the face of ever-growing student enrollment. That was exactly the agenda of the ultraconservative faction of the Republican Party in the early 1980s.
Utah's Legislature was so dominated by adherents of the John Birch Society philosophy in 1981 that a majority in the House passed a resolution seeking to have U.S. senators elected by the Legislature instead of by the people.
The UEA's political action program has indeed changed the face of the Legislature. It has become more moderate, more mainstream. The changes have been made, not by the UEA, but by the voters at large who prefer mainstream candidates.
Teachers don't have the numbers to swing an election by their votes alone, but what we did do was start letting the voters at large know what their legislators were doing at the Capitol.
Our political program emphasizes legislator accountability for his or her voting record - a principle which is the essence of informed democracy.
The UEA is bipartisan. Teachers are both Democrats and Republicans. We respect the importance of a meaningful two-party political system. We are not at odds with the Republican Party or its leaders (who are never quoted by name in Bernick's articles).
Our system of representative government is best served when the nomination process of both parties draws large numbers of votes so that platforms and candidacies are reflective of broad-based concerns and issues. We abhor government by the activist few - whatever their politics - who make policies for the majority who didn't care enough to make a difference.
We don't fight Republicans or Democrats as a party, but we do fight apathy. We prefer a 100 percent voter turnout in every election contest because the majority of voters want the same things we want, whether it's in the school program or other areas of government.
Obviously, UEA supports good candidates in both parties who are committed to maintaining good schools. The "hit list" run by the Deseret News did not originate at UEA, as we advised Bernick. We were dismayed to see the Deseret News label some very good friends of ours as hostile to education.
The other disservice of publishing such a purported list is that the Deseret News thereby implies that any candidate who files against a listed incumbent did so at UEA's behest, when in reality, people who file for political office do so because they believe the voters ought to have a choice at the polls.
Some we'll help, others we won't - as will the other dozens of political action committees who regularly contribute large amounts of money and services to the candidates they favor.
The UEA political endorsement program is a grass-roots program which relies upon the decisions and input of teachers who live and work in legislators' own districts. It is probably the most representative political education effort of any political action committee in Utah.
If a legislator is uncommunicative, hostile, or patronizing to teachers who live in his or her district, those attitudes are undoubtedly going to influence constituents' feelings about whether that legislator should be supported for re-election.
The program is driven from the bottom up, not from the top down. We commend it to any group that wishes to encourage broad-based participation in election politics. After all, that is exactly what democracy is all about.