A program entitled "Professionalism in Utah's Education," turned into a political forum Thursday morning as three politicians lauded the efforts of the American Federation of Teachers, the state's new teachers union.

Equally exuberant was one candidate's criticism of the 15,000-member Utah Education Association, which is holding its annual convention in the Salt Palace.Calling himself a "candidate who stands for teachers," Democratic senatorial candidate Brian Moss said, "It's a healthy sign we have two teachers organizations . . . since the first one isn't doing all it can do for the teachers of Utah."

Speaking to AFT members who gathered at Bryant Junior High, Moss said the UEA is the same organization that recently gave his opponent Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a rating of four out of 100. At one time they gave Hatch a zero rating.

Moss complained that although he's made education the focus of his campaign and early in the race announced his opposition to the tax initiatives, he wasn't invited to speak at the UEA convention.

"I don't have many good words for (the leadership of) that organization, but I will continue to stand by teachers," he said.

Attorney General David Wilkinson and Lt. Gov. candidate Jim Davis also praised the competitive spirit of new union members.

"We are pleased to have your organization join the labor movement . . . to bring professionalism and quality to the workplace," Davis said. "Your concerns are Ted Wilson's concerns."

Davis was speaking to AFT members, while his running mate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson, was addressing the UEA.

Wilkinson, who was not invited to speak at the UEA convention, reiterated his support of the AFT having greater freedom in soliciting new members and meeting with members during the school day.

Wilkinson issued this opinion in June, when State School Supt. James Moss posed five questions to the attorney general having to do with a school district's responsibility to teachers organizations. Moss wanted to know whether a school district could grant one teachers representative organization exclusive rights to use internal mail services, meet with teachers or represent teachers in grievance proceedings.

The attorney general, claiming he "called the law as I saw it," signed the opinion, which put the AFT on more equal footing with the much larger UEA.

"We had to break into a rock-hard fortress in Utah, but our membership is increasing," said Ken Zenger, chairman, Utah Teachers United/AFT. Teachers, the "experts and heartbeats of the schools," are beginning to realize that AFT is here to stay.

Zenger described the AFT as representative of teachers who have had a love/hate relationship with the other organization and "that love is waning." He pointed out that, despite the efforts of the "other organization," Utah teachers haven't had a significant pay increase in the past three years and are now losing their power in Utah.

"If we don't take hold, the dropout rate will go up and teacher morale will go down," he warned. "AFT is the hope that Utah teachers have."