As a member of the MEA-MFT, I was astonished—and incredibly disappointed— to learn that my union has chosen to endorse a legislative candidate who has demonstrated a record that can be charitably called indifferent to, and more accurately called hostile, to public education.
For reasons that are almost impossible to understand, the MEA-MFT chose to endorse incumbent Representative Steve Gibson over his challenger Mary Ann Dunwell in HD 84, an endorsement that reflects, it seems, a rather craven effort to curry favor with a candidate who has already made it abundantly clear that, aside from some moderate posturing, he favors a radical agenda to remake Montana schools into for-profit corporate entitites.
Gibson, while perhaps a moderate in the context of contemporary Republican Party politics, has consistently and repeatedly voted against the interests of public education in the state of Montana. In the 2011 session, he voted with the position advocated by the MEA-MFT 67% of the time, and it was even worse in 2013, when he scored a 61%. While I imagine those making the decisions for MEA-MFT endorsements haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for a long, long time, surely they remember that grades that like that are pretty terrible—and certainy don’t warrant an endorsement, especially when those ratings represent a candidate at direct odds with the values of the union.
In 2011, Gibson voted against sensible budgets that would have adequately funded public education, from K-12 to the university system. According to MEA-MFT, the budgets he supported led to “K-12, higher education, and public services [being] woefully underfunded” and Gibson even voted against amendments to add a tiny amount of additional funding for teachers reaching National Board certification and a small increase for budgets in the University system.
In 2013, Gibson’s votes were much worse. In that session, Gibson voted against same day voter registration, a position the MEA-MFT decribes as endorsing “voter suppression,” against accreditation standards that require librarians in school districts, to override the rights of local teachers and districts to teach health curriculum, reduced funding for schools, and worst of all, for a bill the MEA-MFT called an “unconstitutional, taxpayer funded tuition tax credits for private and sectarian schools.” That vote alone, for a bill which would have allowed the Jeff Laszloffys of the world to drain public resources to teach that Jesus walked with the dinosaurs, should have prevented the MEA-MFT from even considering a Gibson endorsement.
In contrast, his opponent Democrat Mary Ann Dunwell will be a champion for public education. She will vote to expand Medicaid, protect the working poor, and ensure that our students receive the best possible education from pre-k through college: all values the MEA-MFT should stand behind.
I don’t believe the MEA-MFT should uniformly endorse candidates simply because they are Democrats, but should evaluate the positions, experience, and values of each candidate. In this case, it’s not only obvious that Steve Gibson should not receive the endorsement of the MEA-MFT, but that Mary Ann Dunwell should receive enthusiastic support. It’s not even close.
It’s hard not to reminded of another infamous MEA endorsement. Back in 1996, before I became a teacher, the MEA made a similar calculation, deciding to endorse Marc Racicot over Chet Blaylock for governor, despite Blaylock’s 30 years as a teacher and staunch supporter of labor, including specific recognition from the union for his work as a state senator. Then, as now, the endorsement of someone clearly opposed to the interests of Montana’s teachers and students sent the message that the MEA’s political calculation could trump its values, a message no less troubling almost 20 years later.