The AFT's early endorsement of Hillary Clinton comes as no surprise, at least to me. Randi Weingarten and the current AFT leadership has long been tied to the Clinton's political organization by a thousand threads.
After all, the 1.6 million-member union backed Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary, even as Barack was running to become the country's first African-American president.
Weingarten sits alongside the biggest Democratic Party fundraisers on the board of Clinton's SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, a PAC which in the past has been riddled by fights between Obama and Clinton factions.
This is the way things are done in the AFT.
When incumbent Obama ran unopposed in the 2012 primary, the AFT rushed to endorse him without making any demands or getting anything in the way of pro-union, pro-teacher concessions from an administration and a political party that had clearly turned a deaf ear towards the interests of public school educators and parents. The early endorsement didn't sit well then with many rank-and-file teachers (including even many Obama supporters) who saw the move as crass opportunism and a give-away of any leverage the union might have had in shaping policy on issues like testing, teacher evaluation or Common Core.
Leave it to Weingarten to proclaim last month -- without any self-reflection -- that...
"Despite the best intentions, what essentially happened here is President Obama and [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan essentially followed the No Child Left Behind-Bush template in terms of testing and charters and sanctions.There's a growing consensus that we need a reset to educational policy in the country."So there was never any doubt in my mind that another Hillary early endorsement was forthcoming. What did surprise me was the clumsy and self-defeating way it was done, once again without bringing the membership along or getting or asking for anything from Clinton in exchange.
The AFT executive board did meet with Clinton and Democratic Party rivals Sanders, and O'Malley, (Chafee had not yet announced) to discuss issues. But issues were never really the issue here since all are pretty much indistinguishable on public education matters and none of the Clinton contenders appear to have the money or juice within the party to win the nomination -- not counting a major Clinton campaign stumble.
Clinton has come out in favor of of tying teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests. She has been outspoken in support of privately-run charter schools.
In fact, the only thing the union got from Hillary was this vague statement of support, reminiscent of many made by Obama and Duncan over the past 7 years.
"It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society's problems," Clinton told the AFT. "Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too."
In a social-media announcement I received yesterday, RW claims the leadership surveyed "a million" AFT members before making the endorsement with an overwhelming 3-1 majority voicing support for Hillary over the Sanders and the other contenders. The announcement calls Clinton, "the champion of working families" and asks those of us in social media to sport these I'm With Hillary social media badges. I won't be sporting any.
I'm dubious about the million-member survey mainly because I can't find even one rank-and-file teacher here in Chicago who says they were polled. If there's indeed 3-1 membership support for the early (nothing-in-return) endorsement, it sure isn't showing up on Twitter or other social media. You would think that RW would have a host of rank-and-file teachers all over social media proclaiming their support for the endorsement. Instead there appears to be an swell of anger and resentment, at least from ed activists over the endorsement and the leadership's undemocratic (small d) leadership style. No surprise there either.
A petition circulated yesterday, calling on the union to revoke its endorsement, got thousands of signatures in just a few hours.
I did see one official poll done by Hart Research Associates of 1,150 union members. But that's a far cry from 1 million.
Here’s the memo from our pollster—Hart Research, one of top firms in US—on their findings of our member poll http://t.co/mhIt9HfpVQ— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) July 12, 2015
BTW, guess who runs Hart Research Associates? None other than Geoff Garin, who briefly served as co-chief strategist for Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign. Geoff's company also works for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has poured millions into the AFT coffers in an attempt to influence union policy.
So yes, the Clinton juggernaut is rolling. Clinton PAC money is flowing. Look for its influence to be felt not just on unions (the NEA will have no choice but to follow suit) but on local community organizations and social movements as we head toward 2016.
It would be ironic however, if the bullish and undemocratic way the Clinton endorsement was done leads to a rank-and-file backlash that ends up actually hurting, rather than helping the campaign and letting Hillary and the Democrats once again, off the hook on education policy.