For decades, political action committees (PACs) have been an essential tool for membership organizations, including unions, to be active in politics. It is essential that unions such as IEA are active in politics because every decision impacting our members is a political decision, in that the decision makers are either elected officials or appointees of those officials.
IEA’s political action committee, IPACE (Illinois Political Action Committee for Education), was established in 1971 to ensure that, when education issues are discussed at the state or local level, the voices of IEA members are heard and taken seriously.
For IEA members to exert political influence, there must be an orderly and transparent process for making political recommendations that is consistent with the values of IEA and the Association agenda.
How IPACE works
The IPACE board is comprised of representatives from each of the 18 congressional districts, selected by election and appointment. It’s important to understand that, in most cases, the board votes only on whether to ratify the recommendation decisions made at the local level by IEA members living in the legislative districts of candidates for the General Assembly.
There is a specific process that candidates must follow in order to be considered for recommendation by IPACE:
- The candidates must complete a mandatory questionnaire, addressing many issues.
- Members of the local recommendation committee review the candidate’s legislative report card for the prior legislative session.
- The candidate must attend a local recommendation meeting at which he/she is interviewed.
While recommendation decisions for rank and file members of the General Assembly are strictly LOCAL decisions, the recommendation process for state legislative leaders, the heads of the party caucuses in the House and Senate, is somewhat different.
Legislative leaders (House Speaker, Senate President, House and Senate Minority Leaders) are, in effect, statewide officials because they preside over or work with legislators elected from districts throughout Illinois.
Members of the General Assembly meet in political party “caucuses.” The caucus members elect the legislative leaders. Leaders are very influential in their caucuses.
Establishing working relationships with legislative leaders can be difficult, as leaders might oppose IEA on important issues, such as pension policy or education funding. However, experience shows that working through differences can be a great benefit for IEA members.
When possible, IEA tries to think “globally” and consider a range of issues beyond whatever is the burning issue of the moment in the legislature.
It is far more beneficial for IEA members if the organization can identify areas of agreement and establish working relationships with the leaders based on mutual interests and respect.
- Leaders decide which bills will be voted on and whether a bill gets a hearing.
- Leaders decide whether the caucus will take a position on a specific statewide issue as well as whether his/her members will be allowed to vote their districts, as opposed to supporting the “caucus position.”
- Leadership determines committee appointments as well as which bills will be heard in those committees.
To be considered for IPACE support, legislative leaders must appear, in person, before the IPACE committee.
IEA’s Bipartisan approach
Working with both major parties can help stop any one party from enforcing its will on education employees. For decades, IEA has recognized that fact and has established a unique reputation among Illinois unions (and among NEA state affiliates) by having a bipartisan legislative approach; meaning that politicians from both major political parties are able to win IEA support.
Public education is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it’s our issue and we have found that having relationships on both sides of the political aisle gives IEA members the best chance to have their concerns heard by legislators.