The Quinn endorsement a Hot Potato for Chicago Teachers Union
At the September Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting, several teachers stated emphatically that because of the pension bill they were against endorsing the Democrat Pat Quinn for Illinois governor. They helped convince their colleagues to not endorse Quinn, who had replaced Rob Blagojevich, who was almost as quickly removed from office as the Democrats moved the pension bill through the state legislature that cut more than $1 billion in funding and increased the retirement age to 67.
But then something happened inside the CTU. Those same teachers suddenly reversed their vote at the next monthly delegates meeting, and a solid majority voted to endorse Quinn in his close race against Republican candidate Bill Brady.
Before, the outrage against Quinn who signed the infamous pension bill was backed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which decided in September to not endorse Quinn, or any Democrats running who helped pass perhaps one of the most devasting pension reform bills ever in the Illinois legislature. But the next month the IFT reversed itself and decided to endorse Quinn.
The IFT also kicked in almost half a million dollars to help get him elected, mostly in the form of all those glossy flyers filling our mailboxes to stop Brady and vote Quinn.
The IFT convention held last weekend (October 15 - 17) in St. Louis was filled with end-of-the-world rhetoric that pleaded with the delegates to vote for Quinn, because it was just too frightening to think what would happen should Brady become the next governor.
"Bill Brady is a horror story," said outgoing IFT president Ed Geppert. "We're in the toughest political environment since 1994, but I think it's even worse. And if you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu."
Brady has stated he would like to cut 10% of the state budget (which would include a $1 billion cut in education funding), he is against a minimum wage and state pensions, he is anti-union, pro-business, anti-gay rights and women's rights and remarked once he'd like to go back to the "John Wayne days."
Quinn, on the other hand, told the Chicago Teachers Union that he would veto the upcoming voucher bill — which the state senators passed — that would take some money from the already cash-strapped public schools and funnel it to private schools.
The other reasons to vote for Quinn, according to the CTU website, is that "he is a strong advocate for greater educational funding, he helped secure facilities funding for CPS, he has committed to working with CTU membership on key issues like health care, and he would help fast track federal jobs money to CPS."
Perhaps most important, according to union leaders, is Quinn's promise to find more funding for public education via an income tax increase, that would be coupled with writeoffs for low wage earners who would be hard strapped to pay it.
However, Quinn, in his brief time in office as governor, has done serious harm to public education. In addition to signing the devastating pension bill, he vetoed the "Soto bill", which set up an educational facilities task force to give communities input into any changes in their schools after the Renaissance 2010 plan forced many public schools to be closed, phased out or consolidated due to low test scores or low enrollment in mostly low-income black and Latino neighborhoods.
The Renaissance 2010 closures also resulted in escalated violence, upsetting the communities where many of those schools had served as a bedrock for the children and their families. The state legislature quickly and overwhelmingly overrode the governor's veto of the Soto bill, and the Illinois Facilities Task Force finally got into gear this school year and has been holding hearings that have made CPS officials very uncomfortable even before this year's round of school closings is announced (usually in late December or early January).
Quinn is in favor of privatizing education. He helped the controversial UNO Charter school organization secure almost $100 million in state monies just before Chicago schools chief Ron Huberman announced the public schools were facing an almost $1 billion deficit — and fired more than 1500 teachers over the summer. Many of those teachers have still not found a job even after the US Congress passed an education jobs bill that gave Chicago more than $100 million to hire those teachers back.
Quinn promised to call Huberman, as the CTU website stated, but so far those teachers still don't have jobs.
Quinn also signed off on the corrupt Aspira charter operator to get millions in state funding even though the school has seen its test scores plunge over the years and it is facing a federal lawsuit for strip searching three female students.
Quinn was even providing his government services - at what charge? - to shill for a private company called Hooked on Phonics which sells its questionable reading program to public schools and poor people desperate to give their children a chance to learn to read.
IFT delegates were also told to vote for the Democrat senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias against the Republican candidate Mark Kirk, for more or less the same reason — Kirk is horrible. And Kirk is certainly horrible in many areas concerning working people - he supports free trade and sending jobs overseas, deregulation of industry and the bank bailouts and he voted against the teacher jobs bill.
The Senate race — that supposedly doomed Blagovich's political career even though the federal government could only convict him on one charge of lying — is straight out of a screw-ball comedy. Vote either for Giannoulias (whose family bank allegedy had ties to organized crime and was shut down) or Kirk (who flat out lied about his time and accomplishments in the military).
If the biggest issue facing public education is the attack on public schools summarized by "Race To The Top", then Giannoulias has already said he is on the other side. There is serious doubt that Giannoulias as a future senator would even serve the interest of public school teachers any better than his good friend President Obama, who would certainly entice him to support the president's Race to the Top that aims to destroy public education via challenging states to increase charter schools and judge teachers solely on standardized test scores.
Chicago teachers are facing theses serious choices seriously.
"I know this will upset people," one teacher commented on the CORE listserve. "I welcome rebuttal and disagreement on the subject. However, after watching Alexi Giannoulias in the debate tonight, neither CTU nor IFT nor AFT could pay me to vote for him. He will be Arne Duncan's lap dog. His words revealed that he is 100% pro-RttT (Race to the Top). He dropped the name of the Harlem Children's Zone (of "Waiting for Superman" fame). He offered all this information when the question before him was not even on education; it was on a type of open-ended question regarding what he could say to the voters that was different than what we've all been hearing and experiencing. He also spoke of the pension reform that happened in Springfield in terms of it being a good thing."
At the IFT convention, both Quinn and Giannoulias did not make a personal appearance. Instead, they made video presentations and both were received rather lukewarmly by the audience of teachers.
The video presentations were eerily reminiscent of Obama snubbing the AFT convention in 2008 in Chicago and instead making a video presentation even though he was just down the street. But the symbolism couldn't have been clearer — Obama had a more important venue to attend where rich businessmen who funded his presidential campaign have serious aversions to a publically funded education and teacher unions.
Voting for the lesser of two evils itself is a bit misleading. The unions backed Obama for president on his promise that he would help enact the Free Choice Employee Act, which would allow more people to join a union. The act never made it through a Democrat-controlled congress. In education, he gave the country Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education and Race To The Top.
When President Bush first got the No Child Left Behind Act passed, with the help of many Democrats, there was a lot of criticism in Washington for its onerous emphasis on puntative testing with little financial support. Today, Obama's Race to the Top is even harder on public schools, but the criticism from above is muted, while more tax-payer dollars are being used to punish public school teachers and eliminate their jobs.
Perhaps one of the healthiest political discussions today on this topic is currently being discussed on the CORE listserve, the caucus that elected the new union leadership which is having to deal directly now with the ugly political world facing public school teachers.
Several have written that it is important to vote for Quinn because Brady is so bad — and they are right, Brady is bad. The John Wayne days he remembers so fondly hunted down union activists, were the final days of lynch law, and never knew what a minimum or decent working wage was. But others have also written that they might support Rich Whitney, the Green Party candidate because his views are much more in line with the working class. Whitney supports a tax on the rich to fund the huge state budget deficit and building stronger unions to help increase worker wages across the board.
"The fundamental problem in American politics today is that it is so thoroughly dominated by corporate money and bank money," Whitney told the Socialist Worker. "The Center for Responsive Politics did a study a few years ago which found about 80 percent of all campaign contributions come from about 1 percent of the population. It's no mystery who that 1 percent is. It's the owners of the big corporations and banks, and it's foolish to assume that [politicians] don't owe them some favors."
But the hard political reality is, Whitney can't win, so do you vote your conscious for the best candidate, or swallow your pride and take what you can get, though it seems with each election more and more is being taken away from many of us who vote for these characters.
There are some teachers who say the union has to focus on helping build an alternative to the big business dominated two-party system.
"The lesser evil argument is like saying, "I see no way out of this, so I'm sticking with the ones who'll attack me, but hopefully not as much as the other,'" wrote Earl Silbar, a retired teacher and associate member of CORE. "For example, Alexi G.'s down with Obama's attacks on public education and our unions, but maybe not as bad as the Republican. The IFT endorses (Giannoulias) and sends out robo-calls to teachers to get us to vote for .... our enemy. Whoopee. Great. We need to help create the future CORE exists to fight for.
"One alternative: gather our coalitions and campaign for what we actually want, both running candidates and being active in everyday life between elections. American experience shows many such efforts, from the Republican Party of 1860 to the Labor Party attempt in 1995 (for which I was my former union's delegate, full disclosure). Let's get proactive and beyond the perpetual trap of 'lesser evil' prison."