For the first time in anyone's memory, the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, is endorsing the Republican candidate for governor and not the Democratic candidate - even though the Democrat, Stewart Hanson, says he'd consider a tax increase for education while the Republican, Mike Leavitt, says he won't.
"It has raised some discussion even among our own members," admits Dee Burningham, head of the UEA's political activity. Historically, the UEA has endorsed only a Democratic candidate for governor - and only on rare occasion endorsed both a Democrat and Republican.A UEA endorsement means a lot of grass-roots help from its 16,000 members, including turning out the vote on election day, and some of the biggest single donations found in the state - $25,000 to $30,000 contributions to a gubernatorial candidate by the UEA's political action committee are not unheard of. Already, the UEA has given Leavitt $16,800 with the final election still to come.
The UEA started out this hectic political season endorsing both Leavitt and Democrat Pat Shea. That in itself was a bit unusual, the first time the UEA had endorsed both a Republican and Democrat since 1984. But Shea lost to Hanson in the primary election Sept. 8.
Burningham says the association - which historically plays a major part in legislative and gubernatorial races - reconsidered its position after Shea's defeat, with an eye toward also endorsing Hanson. "But it was a very solid position that one of our endorsed candidates (Leavitt) won (in the primary) and we saw no reason to back off of that endorsement," Burningham says.
Leavitt fully backs the state's Strategic Education Plan, a huge, involved document he helped write, which calls for, among many things, reduced classroom size and more pay for teachers. The UEA also endorses the plan and lobbied the 1992 Legislature to approve it.
Unfortunately, classroom-size reduction and higher teacher pay are among the most costly parts of the plan to achieve. Leavitt firmly maintains he won't raise taxes, that more money for teachers and more teachers for children will come only as state tax revenue grows naturally.
Enter Hanson, a Democrat some political insiders considered last spring would fall to Shea. But Shea is pro-life, Hanson pro-choice and Democratic voters smothered Shea in what many believe was a one-issue primary election.
Hanson does not embrace the strategic plan, saying if he's elected governor he'll sit down with all sides and discuss educational needs.
Indeed, in recent gubernatorial debates among Hanson, Leavitt and Independent Party candidate Merrill Cook, Hanson and Cook have taken great glee in saying the plan will cost between $200 million and $500 million in new money - arguing that Leavitt isn't being honest in endorsing the plan, promising to implement it, while still saying he won't raise taxes.
So, the UEA - which like all unions has a major goal of more money for its members - ended up endorsing the Republican candidate for governor who promises not to raise taxes for education and not endorsing the Democratic candidate who says he might. "Within our own organization (some feel) that is unusual - endorsing just the Republican (in the governor's race)," Burningham said. "But we do that in many of the legislative races in highly Republican areas."
But it's not just that. This is the first time the teachers' union has endorsed the Republican gubernatorial candidate alone and not also the Democrat.
"In the 20 or 25 years we've been politically active, I don't know that we've ever done that before," recalls Burningham.
In 1988, the UEA backed Democrat Ted Wilson and not GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter, even though Bangerter in 1987 sought the largest tax increase in the state's history for education. Bangerter won, Wilson lost. The UEA gave Wilson $30,000.
In 1984, recalls Burningham, the UEA backed Democrat Wayne Owens and Republican Karl Snow - one of the union's first dual endorsements. Snow lost in the state GOP convention and was picked by Dan Marriott to be his lieutenant governor running mate. The UEA then endorsed the Marriott/Snow ticket over the other Republican ticket of Bangerter and Val Oveson. Marriott/Snow lost the GOP primary and the UEA didn't endorse Bangerter/Oveson, who went on to defeat Owens in the final election.