Winning Demeanor

By Joetta L. Sack — November 29, 2005 1 min read

She’s being called a warrior.

In the weeks before California’s Nov. 8 special election that shot down Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s three education proposals, a soft-spoken teacher who appeared in a television advertisement is being credited with helping the state’s main teachers’ union best the famous Republican governor.

English teacher Liane Cismowski appears in a campaign ad.

Liane Cismowski, a 48-year-old English teacher at Olympia High School in Concord, Calif., was picked “on a fluke” by political strategists for the California Teachers Association who wanted to put a sympathetic face on the teachers’ battle plan to defeat the proposals. Those measures, which lost in the election, would have given the governor more power to cut K-12 spending, increased the time for teachers to earn tenure, and required union members to give permission each year for their dues to be used for political purposes. (“Foes Seek Cooperation After Calif. Showdown,” Nov. 16, 2005.)

The union, which is often called the 800-pound gorilla of California politics, wanted an ad to counter perceptions that the governor was reform-minded and acting in the best interest of the state.

In the spots, Ms. Cismowski chides the governor, a former bodybuilder and actor, for “too many broken promises and bad ideas.”

“I don’t think most of us realized what an impact she would have right away ” said CTA President Barbara Kerr. “She was the face of teachers for this campaign.”

“After the State of the State Address, I was very disappointed,” Ms. Cismowski, one of her school’s two representatives to the local CTA chapter, said of the speech in January in which the governor announced he would not restore funds that had been cut in the state’s fiscal 2005 education budget.

She was eager to appear in the commercials because she wanted to let the public know that schools are struggling. She said in an interview that the special education teachers at her school collect recyclables to sell so they can buy breakfast and snacks for their neediest students.

Ms. Cismowski said she was often recognized in public during the campaign. But she doesn’t see an acting career in her future. “I’m happy to be back in my classroom, doing my real job, which is teaching,” she said.