A Tennessee Education Association leader said Tuesday that a Republican-led “assault” on the teachers union in the Legislature apparently originated in a refusal to give more campaign money to Republicans in last year’s elections.
Rep. Glen Casada, who was House Republican Caucus chairman at the time, acknowledged that a conversation on campaign cash occurred as described by Jerry Winters, who is lead lobbyist for the 52,000-member teacher organization. But he said the legislative push is based on philosophy and has no relationship to political money.
Winters told reporters Casada, R-College Grove, contacted him during the campaign season to complain that TEA’s political action committee was not giving enough money to Republican legislative candidates. Winters said that, after the conversation, he and others reviewed their donation records and did give money to some more Republicans.
Casada then contacted him again, Winters said, and declared that was not enough; that Republicans wanted equality in receiving money with Democrats. He refused.
“Three months later, we see this bills. I think any thinking person would see the connection,” said Winters. “What I resent most is they’re coming down here now and saying this is education reform… It’s just hardball politics… They’re trying to take us out.”
The comments come with the Senate Education Committee scheduled to vote today on the six Republican-sponsored bills dealing with the TEA. The lead bill would abolish the right of teacher unions under current law to negotiate salaries and working conditions with school boards.
Casada, given a summary of Winters’ comments by reporters, said there were conversations as described initiated because of concern “he (Winters) was so blatantly working against Republicans.”
“They don’t trust us. They don’t believe in us,” Casada said of TEA.
But he said the political differences were not related to introduction and pushing of the legislation this year, but rather over “philosophical view” of education structure.
Casada said TEA is following the National Education Association’s liberal agenda.
“I would contend TEA is an obstacle to reform. It is simply a layer of bureaucracy between teachers and the school board,” Casada said.
He said teachers contacting him are “overwhelmingly against us” on the bills, especially the proposed prohibition on collective bargaining” while “the average Tennessean and the average businessman are overwhelmingly for it.”
Winters said he believes some “reasonable, responsible Republicans” dislike the bills and support teachers, but face pressure from hard-core conservative groups acting in concert against the assault on TEA. He professed some optimism that this could lead to defeat of the anti-collective bargaining bill, though perhaps not in the Senate.