Before Census, N.E.A. Laid Groundwork

October 28, 1992 1 min read

Although redistricting results derived from the 1990 Census will not be known until next week and beyond, the National Education Association and its affiliates were laying the groundwork to protect their interests in state legislatures as early as 1987.

With the advent of sophisticated computer technology, mounds of data became accessible for the first time. Eager to recruit and retain friendly lawmakers, the teachers’ union took advantage of that technology.

At N.E.A. headquarters in Washington, state affiliates were brought in for training. But the national leaders also impressed on their affiliates that the technology was only a tool.

“In some respects, it became a game of who had the biggest computer,’' said Mickey Ibarra, the union’s political-advocacy director for government relations. “We encouraged our folks not to look at it that way. [Redistricting] primarily is a game of raw political power.’'

The Indiana State Teachers Association, for example, hired a Republican consultant and purchased its own system. That “allowed us to mirror what the government had,’' said Robert Margraf, the I.S.T.A.'s chief lobbyist.

Once in place, the union invited lawmakers to its headquarters to show them what the I.S.T.A. deemed was desirable and disadvantageous about individual districts. Then, the candidates would carry the message back to their leadership.

To take one case, the newly drawn district that Rep. Jerry Denbo, a freshman Democrat, is running in is roughly 50 percent Democratic, up from 36 percent previously.

The data provided by the I.S.T.A. “did improve it geographically and politically,’' Mr. Denbo said.--K.D.

A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 1992 edition of Education Week as Before Census, N.E.A. Laid Groundwork