In Florida, Union Support for Dems—and an Independent

By Sean Cavanagh — September 28, 2010 2 min read
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By virtue of its size and its general zaniness, the state of Florida has produced lots of entertaining and high-profile political campaigns over the years. This year is no different, with the state hosting closely watched campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, both of which have drawn the interest of the state’s largest teachers’ union.

The Florida Education Association, which has 140,000 members, is backing Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer, over Republican Rick Scott in the governor’s race. In the senate contest, the union is spreading its support around a bit, offering a independent-Democrat endorsement blend.

In the governor’s campaign, the union is clear: It has a “long history” with Sink, FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said, and trusts that she will work more cooperatively with educators than some of the state’s Republican leaders have, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush feuded with teachers’ unions on a number of issues.

Sink supported the state’s successful application in the federal Race to the Top competition, which resulted in Florida being awarded $700 million in funding. The FEA did not support the state’s application in Round 1 of the $4.35 billion competition, arguing that the union had not been given enough input, Pudlow said, but got behind the effort in Round 2 of the competition. Scott has pledged to “refuse temporary funding from the federal government that creates permanent spending in Florida,” so it’s unclear what his role would be in administering Florida’s Race to the Top plan, which is paid for through the federal stimulus program.

In the race for U.S. Senate, the union is backing both Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, in the race, which also features Republican Marco Rubio. Rubio’s education plan calls for the creation of new tuition tax credits, expanded school choice, and using federal Head Start funds to give low-income families scholarships for more pre-kindergarten options, among other ideas.

Crist’s decision earlier this year to veto a controversial merit pay measure “had a lot to do,” with the governor earning a share of the union’s support. “A lot of union members spent a lot of time” fighting the measure, Pudlow said. “The legislature didn’t listen.”

The union’s gratitude toward Crist was evident in a statement released after he vetoed the measure, Senate Bill 6.

“In Tallahassee, signs of victory appeared after hearing the governor’s decision,” a message posted on the FEA’s site declared. “At one local high school, a crowd gathered with 3 local school bands. ‘Thank You Gov. Crist,’ filled the air.”

Whether those positive feelings for the goveror, or the union’s support for Meek, is enough to help either of them bring it on home on Nov. 2 remains to be seen. Recent polls show Rubio with a lead, followed by Crist and then Meek.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.