Leave it to Chris Christie to come up with a new way to court voters in his sagging quest to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: directly suggest violence against teachers, or, to be specific, a teachers union that endorsed Hillary Clinton. (One wonders what he might have said if the union had endorsed him.)
In any case, while he is getting a lot of attention for his bellicose rhetoric, a look at the Republican field shows that he is hardly the only candidate antagonistic toward teachers and their unions — and others have been more damaging to the teaching profession, at least so far.
The New Jersey governor was on CNN on Sunday, where host Jake Tapper asked, “At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?” (Why would Christie get that question? Because he has made it known he likes to deal with bullies by punching them in the face, an approach that would work well in the Oval Office, no?) According to this story by my Post colleague Lyndsey Layton, Christie did not hesitate with a response: “Oh the national teachers union, who has already endorsed Hillary Clinton 16, 17 months before the election.”
Christie meant the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers union, which announced in July its endorsement of Clinton. AFT president Randi Weingarten has long been close with Clinton, and though some AFT members are unhappy with the early endorsement, the move could hardly have been a surprise. She was, naturally, not pleased with Christie, tweeting:
This is just disgusting. The culture of violence and hate aimed at educators is just out of control http://t.co/Fx86WMhAA8
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) August 2, 2015
She followed up on Monday with this statement:
“Chris Christie has issues—from reneging on his promise to fix pensions to his state’s fiscal standing facing near junk bond status. But the biggest issue is he’s a bully and has anger management problems. That he would threaten to punch teachers in the face—mostly women seeking to help children meet their potential and achieve their dreams—promotes a culture of violence and underscores why he lacks the temperament and emotional skills to be president, or serve in any leadership capacity. It’s a sad day in the life of our nation to see a candidate threaten violence to gain political favor.”
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the largest union in the country, wasn’t pleased either:
— Lily Eskelsen García (@Lily_NEA) August 3, 2015
And some other reaction:
Christie’s antagonism toward teachers is legendary. Back in 2013, when a teacher named Melissa Tomlinson asked him at a rally, “Why do you continue to spread the myth that our schools and teachers are failing?” he yelled at her.
“Because they are!”
He also said:
“I am tired of you people. What do you want?”
And the rally ends, inevitably, with Christie arguing with a teacher pic.twitter.com/YyLsoJVTWQ
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 2, 2013
(Twitter picture above used with permission)
— NJEA (@NJEA) August 2, 2015
To be fair to Christie, New Jersey unions haven’t always pulled their punches about him. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat him at the polls (unsuccessfully), and in 2010, the Bergen County Education Association sent out a memo with this closing prayer, the Associated Press reported here:
“Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”
NJ.com reported on the fallout here:
Christie went on the attack, demanding an apology as well as the firing of Joe Coppola, the official who sent the letter. The union refused to fire Coppola, leading to a freeze out of union head Barbara Keshishian.
A look at the Republican field shows that Christie, while the most consistently belligerent candidate when it comes to teachers and their unions, is probably not the most damaging to them.
We’ve got Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who in 2011, pushed through a law that slashed the power of public employee unions to bargain, and cut pay for most public sector workers, but exempted the unions of police, firefighters and state troopers from the changes in collective bargaining rights, but did not exempt educators. Earlier this year, he made his thoughts known about his views of teachers who protest his policies, saying:
“I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not, do not, take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
And we’ve got former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a leader of the corporate school reform movement that demonizes unions, opposes teacher tenure and unfairly links teachers’ jobs and pay to student standardized test scores. Bush likes to call public schools “government-run monopolies run by unions.” In 2012, he said in a speech: “Teachers unions are super powerful and their supporters are “masters of delay and deferral,” without mentioning that the unions have lost so much political power that they have been unable to stop states from implementing measures they oppose.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, too, has embraced the Bush style of anti-teacher school reform. Last month, he signed a controversial bill that “drastically changes how the state can step in to run ‘failing’ school districts,” according to the Plain Dealer, “by creating a new CEO position, allowing mayors to appoint school board members and giving the CEO power to override parts of union contracts.”
None of the GOP candidates are, in fact, beloved by teachers for many of these same reasons. Many teachers see these policies as direct attacks on them, individually and on their profession.
One thing the candidates seem to ignore is that the fundamental problems that ail public schools are the same in union and non-union states. Blame unions for whatever you want, but facts are stubborn things.