In years past, the political efforts of the Utah Education Association could be likened to a Marine assault on Iwo Jima.
"And quite frankly, that doesn't sit well with a lot of lawmakers," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy. "They don't like the heavy-handed presence."The scars of past battles with lawmakers remain. But the UEA is trying a new strategy this year: quiet cooperation with Republicans.
"There is a definite need for the UEA to build bridges with the Republican Party," said Jim Campbell, president of the UEA. "They are the political power in this state and we have to work with them." Campbell is himself an active Republican, serving as a delegate to the GOP National Convention in 1988.
The UEA strategy is in sharp contrast to the past several legislative sessions when the UEA developed an image - which the organization says it didn't deserve - of a monolithic, liberal organization that resorted to not-so-subtle threats to achieve its ends.
Those tactics rankled a lot of GOP lawmakers, who still blame the UEA for defeating several conservative colleagues in recent elections, replacing them with UEA-supported Democrats or moderate Republicans.
While the dislike for the UEA still prevails on Capitol Hill, the "new-image" UEA is raising eyebrows. For example, the UEA traditionally has a battalion of lobbyists campaigning for a package of 20 to 30 UEA-drafted bills that realistically have little chance of passing.
This year, it's hard to find a UEA lobbyist anywhere. And the UEA has restricted its campaign to two bills in particular, as well as opposition to any tax cuts, which it sees as coming at the expense of public education.
"We defined our priorities and are concentrating our efforts on those priorities," Campbell said.
Some in the Republican-controlled Legislature have interpreted the UEA's low-profile, pared-back approach as an indication the education lobby is running scared after political setbacks in the 1988 elections.
Republican senators publicly say they hold no grudges against the UEA, but privately they admit the UEA is not welcome in the Senate. Nor has the organization done much lobbying there.
Senators are particularly upset over what they say was a distorted campaign by former Republican lawmakers-turned-education lobbyists Dave Irvine and Georgia Peterson to unseat popular Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. Irvine and Peterson operate a political consulting firm that has done work for UEA-backed candidates.
"People here took those attacks personally," said one lawmaker. "People like Dave Irvine and Georgia Peterson are not welcome here. Period."
The governor's office is also peeved at the UEA, though officials insist that "no one has been blackballed."
"Some of the governor's staff believe the UEA and the public employees betrayed the governor, and the staff wishes the governor would stick it to them," said one aide. "But the governor has said he will treat everyone fairly. Even the UEA."
Members of the House of Representatives are a little more cordial to the UEA, but they are also delighted the education lobby has taken a low-key approach - an approach called effective and realistic.
"It's a whole different attitude, and quite frankly, it's a welcome change," Moody said.