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State Journal: Arizona ammunition

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Arizona Ammunition

Republican lawmakers in Arizona have launched an attack against the National Education Association that officials at the union's state affiliate view as an effort to discredit them.

"At best this is a distortion," said Daphne D. Atkeson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Education Association. "At worst, it's outright manipulation to take this stuff out of context."

The criticisms center on resolutions passed in July at the nea's Representative Assembly meeting in Minneapolis,whose topics range from the importance of educating students about sexual orientation to support for a single-payer health-care system.

Republican leaders in Arizona have used such controversial positions as ammunition locally.

"It's certainly not news that the nea is a left-wing organization," Senate Majority Leader Tom C. Patterson said in a recent interview. "Unfortunately, now it can only be categorized as [a group of] radical left-wingers who are more than willing to influence our children to their views."

Speaker of the House Mark Killian apparently had a hand in delivering a list of nea resolutions to the Capitol's press office earlier this month. A notice bearing his letterhead was attached to the list.

"We wonder how many teachers, the rank-and-file members of the nea, are aware of this document and how many actually support the statements of policy that it represents," the notice said.

The 30,000-member Arizona union often clashes with Republicans, who control the legislature. But some observers suggest that the recent attacks may have been provoked, at least in part, by the aea's support of a measure that proponents hope to place on the 1996 ballot. It would require lawmakers to give every bill a hearing, force open political caucuses that traditionally have been closed, and limit the number of bills a lawmaker could file.

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The NEA draws criticism virtually every year for taking stands on contentious issues. Some delegates proposed at the July meeting--unsuccessfully--to make it harder to put such resolutions on the agenda.

Tony Rollins, the assistant executive director of the nea's Center for Teaching and Learning, said the union will probably continue to take strong stands.

"But I think there was at this [year's] meeting a heightened sensitivity to consider how things would be interpreted," he said. "Yes, these resolutions are often used to criticize the nea. And the locals are often the ones who are most directly affected."

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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