Politically Speaking: Smart Moves for School, or More Stupid Politics?

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(Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press)

Jill Alper

Jill Alper is a principal with a grassroots public affairs firm and an electoral strategist who formerly worked for Gov. Jennifer Granholm. John Truscott is president and principal of a political consulting firm and was formerly an aide to Gov. John Engler.

JILL ALPER: Sadly, there’s an all-out assault on teachers in Michigan these days, when what we need is a battle plan for education.

JOHN TRUSCOTT: Nobody is assaulting teachers, but it seems their union has made some serious political blunders, leading lawmakers to question whom they really represent — teachers or the Democratic Party.

ALPER: The unions have been targeted by Republicans because they have been effective at articulating policies that people do support, and are in opposition to the right-wing agenda. Union members are teachers who are trying mightily to do their jobs with larger classes while Republican leaders have slashed school funding and have forced them to take more out of pocket for retirement and health insurance while their salaries are being cut.

TRUSCOTT: They’re finally joining the rest of us. And President Barack Obama’s economy that he’s now taking credit for is doing nothing to help. The Michigan Education Association foolishly launched a number of recall campaigns against Republicans. This was one of the dumbest stunts I’ve seen in politics. And it has exposed the fact that they are no longer a service organization. They have turned completely into a political organization. Other labor unions have played it much smarter.

ALPER: The Obama jobs bill your guys won’t pass helps schools! And, the rest of us? The Republicans gave a $1.7-billion tax cut to corporations while cutting $900 million to schools. And now your gang wants to cut property taxes to raise the corporate tax cut to $2.5 billion. Where do you think that will come from? And, careful, we all know the Republicans launched recalls in 2008. We don’t need political scapegoating. We need a comprehensive education strategy that works.

TRUSCOTT: Well, the Democrats and Gov. Jennifer Granholm never proposed anything that would seriously improve schools. It’s time for a new approach. Gov. Rick Snyder is setting the right tone, and Republican legislators may relieve school districts from the burden and expense of collecting union dues, allowing teachers to pay them directly. It’s time for a positive change.

ALPER: Under Granholm, with Republican votes in the Legislature, education standards were raised to some of the highest in the nation. More people enrolled in college and community college due to the Michigan Promise Scholarship, and more than 125,000 displaced workers were trained and placed in jobs through No Worker Left Behind, which you all defunded. On union dues, Republicans want people to believe that unions force teachers to become union members, which is false. Teachers, whether in a union or not, all benefit from the work unions do. Unions collect resources to bargain on behalf of the teachers they represent, period.

TRUSCOTT: Like I said, some labor unions are actually working within the political system to get things done. But some unions need to learn that they can’t bully and cajole, and that actions have consequences. It’s probably the main reason there’s discussion of right-to-work legislation. Like it or hate it, it’s a discussion that’s at least worth having.

ALPER: Really? Many right-leaning groups need to learn they can’t bully and cajole. The Supreme Court decision that “corporations are people” who can spend like drunken sailors without reporting requirements is outrageous. Working people should have a right to organize, period. This is a distraction and unnecessary. It’s sad the Republican Party has resorted to going after organizations that represent people who do not support their issues because they can’t defeat them at the ballot box. This will backfire at the polls in 2012.

TRUSCOTT: The global economy is changing rapidly. If Michigan is not going to be left behind, we must update our rules and laws and change as well. This is about the survival of our economy. We can ignore the rapidly changing world around us, or we can take a leadership position. That’s what Republicans are doing. While it’s not always pretty, and it’s often very painful, the tough decisions will position Michigan for a brighter future — for all of us.


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