Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney tells teachers: Just shut up

So now Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that teacher unions should not have a political voice. In an interview with NBC host Brian Williams, Romney said, “I believe that we simply can’t have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians…”

Romney apparently believes it is wrong for unions to donate to politicians if there is a chance that the union will ever negotiate with officials they have supported. He called it “an extraordinary conflict of interest.”

The republican nominee has no such qualms about taking donations from the likes of billionaire casino czar Sheldon Adelson, who pledged $100 million to Romney’s cause. In an interview with a reporter, Adelson called his campaign contribution “self defense.”

Adelson is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the activities of his gambling empire.

As Huffington Post contributor Ryan Grimm wrote this week:

The top reason Adelson gave for backing Romney and opposing President Barack Obama is "self defense," as Allen put it, referencing the probe into Las Vegas Sands Corp… Adelson's casino empire, the bulk of which is based in Asia, is being investigated for bribery and money laundering. …In other words, Adelson is spending millions of dollars to curry political favor in the United States, hoping to fend off charges that he spent millions of dollars to curry political favor in Asia.
In candidate Romney’s world, it is perfectly acceptable for his side in an election to take millions from those under criminal investigation. Teachers and school employees who want to have a say in an election, however, must keep their mouths and their wallets shut.

But what Romney considers a conflict of interest, the United States Supreme Court has ruled is freedom of speech. When educators form a union and pool their resources to endorse political candidates, they are simply doing what Americans have a right to do.

What Romney is attempting is to silence the voices of those who may disagree with him.

Teacher unions are not alone in contributing to political campaigns. The Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Business and Industry, the doctors, the lawyers, the drug companies all make contributions that vastly outweigh campaign spending by our teacher union.

Each of those donate in the hope that the candidates they support will win the election and then make decisions favorable to the contributor. It might not be pretty, but it is the way politics has always been conducted in the United States.

Here is a hard fact from last year’s election for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Our union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, contributed a total of about $20,000 to all of the BESE candidates we endorsed. Contributions to those candidates from all sources amounted to less than $348,000.

Business and political interests aligned with Gov. Bobby Jindal poured over $2.8 million into the same races. The result is a BESE board solidly aligned with the governor. This BESE board overwhelmingly approves of Jindal’s agenda to privatize public education, to support vouchers for private and religious schools, and to expose teachers to a harsh and unfair new evaluation system.

The truth is that money speaks in American elections, and the loudest voice is often the one that is best funded. To deny that voice to unions is to tape the mouths of teachers and school employees and ensure that our concerns are never heard.

Would we all be better off if there were a fair way to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns in our country? That is a legitimate discussion to have, but it is not at the heart of Romney’s complaint to Brian Williams.

In the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Candidate Romney is attempting to tilt the playing field by removing the “and unions” from that balance.

In short, Romney’s fear is that a political contribution by a teacher union will color a decision by an elected official.

His is the wrong prescription for what ails the American political system.

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