Gov. Norm Bangerter is a long way from winning the endorsement of the Utah Education Association, the teacher union's president made very clear Saturday.
"We cannot afford a governor who says UEA is irresponsible and out of touch with reality because we outline the critical needs of education," said UEA President Jim Campbell. "We cannot support a governor who would not fully fund growth and who criticizes us for daring to ask for more money than recommended in his budget proposal."Teachers don't need four more years of defining education reform as "doing more for less," Campbell told a Salt Lake convention of more than 300 UEA delegates.
Campbell urged teachers to support political leaders who recognize the outstanding job teachers are doing and stand up for their needs.
The UEA has demonstrated its political clout. It spends more money on state campaigns than any other in-state organization. Next to the two political parties, the UEA wields more power than any group, Campbell said in a Deseret News interview.
"In the past, UEA's influence has made the difference in legislators getting defeated or candidates getting elected," he said. "We have an active group who donate money and many who can spend their time in the summer campaigning for a candidate."
Campbell said teachers are generally very disappointed in Bangerter for blaming education for a tax increase that has incurred the wrath of tax protesters. Bangerter has said he proposed the tax increase to provide more money for education. "Bangerter is in a Catch 22 he's made both the taxpayers and the teachers really mad."
While the UEA has not ruled Bangerter out entirely, he would have to make definite changes to gain political support, Campbell said.
Meanwhile, teachers are looking to other candidates who offer "fresh ideas" and come across as leaders who have solutions to education's woes.
On May 6 and 7, the UEA Utah Political Action Committee will meet with all gubernatorial candidates to interview them and review their platforms for improving education. The committee will then support a candidate, or possibly a candidate in each party, through the well-organized UEA network.
Teachers are looking for a governor who will do more than tell teachers to be patient, be glad they have a job and work harder under stressful conditions, said Campbell. "They are looking for a change."
Former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson is a favored son among teachers. An obvious reason for their support: Wilson is a former high school teacher, said Campbell.
"He understands teachers' problems. He's realistic about the economic problems our state faces, but believes more can be done to help teachers carry their enormous loads."
Campbell said he was happy to see industrialist Jon M. Huntsman enter the race. "The salvation for this state is to have a governor who will improve the economy of the state to attract industry, broaden the tax base and lessen the burden on taxpayers.
"If the economy turns around, there will be money to fund reform and fairly compensate teachers."
Despite the tax increases under Bangerter, teachers have not received a raise in three years. The money has gone to programs instead, Campbell said.
Huntsman's father and grandfather were teachers, so he has "a genuine concern and high regard for what teachers do." He has a keen interest in the needs of educators, said Campbell.
While Campbell finds Salt Lake businessman Merrill Cook "teachable" and sincerely interested in understanding educators and their frustrations, the UEA president is put off by Cook's choice of Lee Allen as his lieutenant governor running mate. Allen publishes a tax protest newspaper and is a leader in the fight to drastically reduce taxes.
Severe tax cuts would destroy Utah's education system, said Campbell.
Cook is the least popular candidate with teachers, he said.
Teachers are looking for a candidate who will commit to reprioritizing the state's budget in favor of education.
"If education truly is this state's No. 1 priority, then there has to be major reform in the budgets. Buildings, roads, prisons even the Burr Trail are not more important than the children we teach."