Stereotypes die hard, especially those that try to pigeonhole labor organizations and the states in which they are located.
Here are some interesting facts about Illinois, politics and IEA:
- According to the August 2012 IEA statewide voter survey, about 36 percent of the likely voters call themselves Democrats while 64 percent describe themselves as Republican (26%) or Independent (38%)
- The IEA member survey taken in February of 2012 shows 41 percent of our members consider themselves Democrats, while 22 percent are Republican and 30 percent Independent.
- The same survey shows that 33 percent of our members call themselves “liberal”, 28 percent say “conservative”, while 38 percent call their political views “middle of the road.”
- In 2004, Alan Keyes, an extreme conservative Republican, who wasn’t even from Illinois, got just 27 percent of the vote, yet won ten counties in the race for the US Senate against Barack Obama.
- In the “blue state” of Illinois, Democrat Pat Quinn won the 2010 race for governor while losing in 99 of Illinois’ 102 counties.
So, to summarize:
- Illinois is a “blue state” with a lot of political diversity,
- While the Democratic party has the most member support of any political party, IEA members tend to be centrists.
Which leads us to a front page story in Tuesday’s New York Times, on the changing political philosophies of “teachers’ unions.”
In Ohio, the proportion of contributions to Republicans jumped to more than 21 percent this year from less than 1 percent in 2010. Similarly, in Illinois, where 16 percent of donations went to Republicans in 2010, the proportion has increased to 22 percent.
“The notion that just because you’re a Democrat” you can take the teachers’ unions for granted has changed, said Jim Reed, director of government relations for the Illinois Education Association.
The Times is just catching up to the fact that IEA has long had a “bipartisan” political philosophy that began in the 1990s (under President Bob Haisman)and has remained in place ever since.
It’s a philosophy that recognizes that members of the General Assembly are elected from places that are geographically and demographically a world away from Chicago and the “collar counties.”
Support for public education and the IEA agenda is needed and welcomed everywhere, including in rural areas, such as Washington County in southern Illinois, where IEA/IPACE (the IEA political action committee) backs Republican Charlie Meier. From the Times:
Opposition to vouchers and charter schools helped secure Charles E. Meier, a conservative farmer running for a seat in the Illinois House, $38,000 in campaign contributions from the Illinois Education Association and an additional $5,000 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers this year.
Mr. Meier sounds like a typical conservative when he rails against graduated tax rates. But when he talks about his disapproval of charters and vouchers, he sounds almost like a teachers’ union representative.
“If we start giving out vouchers and everything, or the kids go to other charter schools,” Mr. Meier said, “we’re then hurting our district.” Teachers’ unions similarly argue that charter schools siphon away taxpayer dollars and the most motivated students.
If he’s elected, it’s unlikely Mr. Meier will support the IEA fight to change the state income tax to a graduated tax. But Meier appears firmly committed on other issues IEA members care deeply about; he supports quality schools and opposes schemes that divert money away from public schools.
There are some Democrats in the legislature who oppose us on those issues.
And the Democrats, from Gov. Quinn down, have led on pension-cutting legislation.
The reality is that Illinois politics are messy.
Keep in mind that political recommendations are not a top-down decision in IEA.
When it is said that “IEA recommends” a legislative candidate, that means the local leaders in that candidate’s area held meetings, reviewed materials, interviewed the candidates and voted on whom to recommend.
“IEA” is not people in a building in Springfield. IEA is 133,000 men and women who, regardless of party affiliation, believe in the IEA mission of “excellence and equity” in education.
IEA members live and work in the real world, not in a make-believe land where every politician is perfectly aligned with the personal political philosophy of every member.
Every decision impacting the work of IEA members is a political decision. If we stand on the sidelines waiting for the perfect candidate we’ll be very lonely.
And without influence.
IEA members and the students they serve deserve a voice. Stereotypes be damned.
Support your union. Support IPACE.