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Keep public-sector groups out of politics

My Opinion
Ross Schulz, Staff Writer

The political advertisements for the Mitch McConnell-Allison Lundergan Grimes Kentucky Senate race has gone a bit overboard.
Actually, it went overboard about a month ago.
Unfortunately, being in the Louisville television market, our living rooms are bombarded with commercial after commercial about the race. While it is supremely annoying, it’s all a part of the modern American political campaign process. So, I don’t have a problem with it.
I do, however, have a problem with another method of campaigning I’ve heard will take place on election day in the Louisville area.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association plans to pay willing and able teachers $300 to stand outside somewhere, I assume as close as allowed to polling places, and hold signs for a particular candidate all day Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4. You can’t blame those who choose to participate for making extra money.
Teachers’ unions financially supporting candidates is nothing new, but I don’t recall it being so obvious as the sign-holding opportunity, which, I’m willing to bet, is not a new tactic.
Ethically, even if not technically, there’s a problem with this (and any other teachers’ union financial support to candidates for that matter) because teachers are public employees and teachers’ associations and unions are supported, at least, in part, if not in full, by dues from the teachers.
Teachers’ salaries move from public to private as soon as the check is written to them, but oftentimes membership dues (teachers do not have to join an association or union) are taken directly out of a check.
This is not a knock on teachers. Teachers don’t just deserve every penny they get; they deserve much more.
The question lies with how a teachers’ union or association is viewed.
While JCTA (and other teachers unions) is technically a private entity, it’s a public-sector union; therefore, it differs greatly from private-sector unions.
For example, take an excerpt from a Washington Post article in 2012, ‘In the private sector, there are genuinely two sides negotiating contracts. But teachers unions and other public-sector unions often exert power on both sides of the bargaining table. They exercise political pressure by supporting candidates financially, with coveted endorsements or by calling voters. Because school board elections are often held separately from other elections and have low turnout, teachers’ unions often dominate them. Autoworkers don’t get to pick the board of directors of the car company; but teachers, in effect, can.’
Any election or campaign-related action taken by JCTA should use money raised through fundraising or other methods, not direct teachers’ dues.
No resident can opt out of paying taxes that support schools, whether they have children in the school system or not. But they should be able to rest assure that their money won’t be used to promote a particular political candidate that they personally may not support.
Anytime a person is forced to do something, knowingly or unknowingly, to support a specific elected official, it should send reverberating waves of red (white and blue) flags across the countryside.
That shouldn’t fly in the United States of America.
Candidates in Harrison County are especially careful not to cross any such boundaries. A candidate for county council, who happens to currently be on a school board, wouldn’t even attend his political party function at the school for fear of it appearing to be using school facilities/funds to promote his candidacy.
The need for more funding for schools in Indiana is always a front and center topic. Hopefully, no teachers’ associations in Indiana are spending thousands of dollars to try to get candidates elected.
While neither candidate has done anything wrong in the Kentucky senate race, the idea of public funds tied to political gain should still apply.
Let’s be clear, JCTA or any other candidate-supporting teachers’ union did nothing wrong and are well within their rights to provide candidates with financial support, but it seems to me more regulations or guidelines should be in place for them when it comes to doing so, since they are not the same as a private-sector union or company.
Politics can be a dirty, costly and brutal game. But it should be played on a field out in the open for everyone to see and participate as they see fit.