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Raising his standing

When asked in late January how he would handle his state's teachers' unions, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating had a ready response: "Homicide."

Mr. Keating's tone was jocular, but union leaders were not amused—despite his later expressions of remorse. Relations between the second-term governor and the teachers' unions have been strained for years, and the latest barb—delivered as Mr. Keating was speaking to a group of college students—was seen as particularly stinging.

"We were very disturbed by his comments," said Carolyn Crowder, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Since then, however, the Republican governor has seen his standing rise considerably among Oklahoma educators.

Just a few weeks after the remark, he signed legislation providing a $3,000 pay raise for the state's 48,000 teachers and support personnel.

Gov. Keating had originally proposed $2,000 merit raises, to be distributed selectively by districts based on merit rather than across the board. Still, the governor's press secretary, Dan Mahoney, said he was happy to sign the larger, across-the-board increases.

Not surprisingly, the measure was a hit with teachers. Thousands rallied at the Capitol on Feb. 16, the day the legislation passed the Senate.

Ms. Crowder, who is also the chairwoman of the Oklahoma Education Coalition, a group of 12 state education groups, said union leaders were grateful for the turn events had taken since the contretemps. "We were glad that he apologized, and hopeful that he was ready to focus on real issues, which so far has been true," she said.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 20

Published in Print: March 1, 2000, as State Journal

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