The 112th Congress begins today, with Idaho once again represented by an all-Republican delegation as Rep. Raul Labrador replaces Walt Minnick. Idaho Education Association member Teresa Jackman, a teacher in Aberdeen, wrote this commentary for the IEA's Region 5 newsletter. We reprint it here with the author’s permission.
NEA Republican Leaders …what? This must be a typo or maybe an intentional oxymoron. Shouldn’t that headline refer to the “NEA Democratic Leaders Conference”? Because we all know that unions’ political alliances are Democratic. And that is true of most labor unions, but not ours. In fact, one third of the NEA’s (National Education Association) membership is Republican! So let’s debunk this myth.
To do this, I’d like to invite you to join me as I’ve worked to identify my own political alliance. I have been a voter for the last nine Presidential elections. I have voted both Republican and Democratic, and believed I would never declare one party, simply because I can’t quite figure out what each party’s stance really is. Or rather, I’m pretty sure I can explain each party’s platform and then everything gets cloudy again and again and again.
This indecisiveness never caused me concern, until I volunteered to represent IEA’s Region 5 as the Government Relations/Political Action Committee member. That’s when friends and family members started to ask me why I’d “turned into a Democrat.” Because of my political naiveté, I didn’t understand what they meant. Then the fun began (for them), as they pointed out to me the Union/Democratic connection. My response was always, “I vote my mind, not a party.”
I became further conflicted when IEA President Sherri Wood phoned and invited me to attend the NEA Republican Leaders Conference IV to be held the week of my 50th birthday in Washington, D.C. At first I believed that the NEA’s objective for this conference would be to teach NEA members how to talk to Republicans about education issues. Last July 27, Kim Anderson, Director of NEA Government Relations, welcomed 92 attendees representing most of our states. She explained that “The new currency in Washington D.C. is grassroots lobbying!” Yes, we were going to talk, but not to only the Republicans. Other great pieces of Kim’s welcome and the keynote speech from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel included:
· The NEA is the biggest professional organization in America;
· One out of every 100 Americans is a member of the NEA;
· Being NEA, we cannot be for or against an administration;
· The NEA has to be what we’re for: education;
· We must influence policy, because we cannot influence politics via party;
· Not Democratic or Republican but The Education Party
Within the first hour of the NEA Republican Leaders Conference, I found affirmation that my own belief system is valid! I don’t have to be a Democrat to be an active member of my association. Why? Because my association bridges the parties to impact the education of America’s children!
I was brought to our Nation’s capital to have conversation with members of the United States Congress. Before our conversations could take place, we received training pertinent to the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), including an exercise/role play with actual members of Congress. Our day ended with all 92 attendees transformed into grassroots lobbyists.
And lobby I did. Wednesday morning, LaVon Dresen, another IEA/NEA member and I, met personally with three of Idaho’s four members of Congress. One Representative was on the floor voting at our meeting time, so we talked with his office manager. Our conversations were focused and felt productive. In a follow-up e-mail discussing ESEA, one member of the delegation assured me that, “You can be sure that I will continue to engage in conversations with my colleagues to further our shared goals for education as we develop and debate this important piece of legislation. “
It is exactly this end that we, as educators, desire. We must assure that Republican and Democratic legislators on both the state and national level know our opinions, needs, and aspirations for the education of today’s students.