Teaching Profession

Behind the Scenes of NEA’s Endorsement: Which Affiliates Backed Clinton?

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 06, 2015 2 min read
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There has been a great deal of media interest in the National Education Association’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign. On paper, it joins its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers, and increases pressure on other on-the-fence labor groups to make up their own minds.

Behind the scenes, the NEA’s endorsement process was a lot more complicated, and even contested, than it looks. Let’s dig in.

Hillary Clinton spoke to the NEA Board of Directors before it voted. I tweeted this a day before it happened, and although it’s hard to tell what effect it had, it certainly shows how badly Clinton wanted the nod.

The union’s PAC Council took a roll-call vote. Remember how I said this was unlikely? I was wrong. Usually, the union’s endorsements are pretty pro-forma.This time, apparently, there was sufficient disagreement that someone demanded a roll-call vote. Kudos to Mike Antonucci, who posted the results on his blog. As he notes, the PAC Council approval came by a margin of 85 percent of votes cast, but there were a significant number of abstentions—more than 1,100 or 41 percent of available votes! Note also that certain states gain power because of the council’s weighted voting structure. The Delaware affiliate has only 4 percent of the membership of NEA’s largest affiliate, California, but it has 32 percent of California’s PAC Council votes. That’s because it raises a lot of cash per head for the NEA’s PAC.

The NEA’s Board of Directors split over the vote. As expected, the board of directors approved a Clinton vote, with a 75 percent margin of votes cast. But the actual vote tally, which got passed to me today, is fascinating. (See it below.)

  • Board members from Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, as expected, voted against the recommendation. But so did Arkansas, Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island;
  • Board members in California, Nebraska, Ohio, Iowa, and Washington split their votes;
  • Nevada and Delaware abstained; and Alabama, Calfornia, and New Jersey also had at least one abstention.

It’s hard to know how this is all going to play out in the future, but two things are for sure. For one, should she win, Clinton will owe the teachers’ unions more than Obama did. Second, in pushing so hard for Clinton, NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia has used up a lot of political capital in her union. Expect to hear some dissent about how this all went down at next year’s Representative Assembly.

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Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.