By Len Lazarick
The pandering cameras were on at the Maryland State Education Association in Ocean City Friday as four candidates for governor came seeking the endorsement of the largest union in the state with promises in hand.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown walked away with the prize less from what he promised in a brief 10 minute speech -- spending $500 million a year on public school construction, for one -- than for what he and Gov. Martin O'Malley delivered to public schools over the last six years -- the most massive increase in funding in Maryland history, $1.5 billion more in school aid, 35% higher over six years.
Brown even overcame understandable grumbling over the O'Malley-Brown administration moves on teachers pension that produced the largest State House rally in recent memory, or even the partial shift of teacher pension costs to the counties. Brown's running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, had opposed that move.
Endorsement brings manpower and spending
The MSEA endorsement is perhaps the most significant of the many endorsements Brown has racked up so far, bringing with it both manpower and independent campaign spending for his candidacy.
The backing of the teacher's union for Brown was hardly a surprise, but "you've got to work for it," Brown said Saturday. The lieutenant governor and Ulman were campaigning outside the main entrance of the Ocean City Convention Center Saturday as the MSEA delegates were returning for the official vote. Brown wound up with 71% of the tally from the 600-member representative assembly -- probably one of the most democratic and open of the union endorsements.
Brown said he had spoken to county education associations -- the locals of the statewide union -- and had even trekked to Atlanta for the National Education Association convention at the beginning of the summer to gain their support.
All four of the candidates had filled out MSEA's 20-page questionnaire in August, covering virtually every topic affecting public schools, from charter schools and teacher evaluations to the power of local school boards to pick superintendents and the outsourcing of school jobs.
(To see the questionnaires for the four candidates, click on their names: Democrats Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur, and Republican Harford County Executive David Craig. The candidates also did video interviews with MSEA president Betty Weller that lasted from 14 minutes for Craig to 23 minutes for Mizeur, getting more detailed responses to some of the questions. The videos on YouTube can be seen by clicking on Brown, Craig, Gansler and Mizeur.)
Democrats in agreement
The three Democrats agreed with MSEA positions and with each other on most issues, including support for raising the minimum wage and changing the way Maryland collects corporate income tax to a method called "combined reporting."
Brown had to defend the actions of the O'Malley-Brown administration in increasing teacher contributions to their own pensions and reducing pension benefits for new teachers.
But in bringing the almost unanimous recommendation of the Endorsement Council to the delegates, Frederick County Teachers Association President Gary Brennan emphasized what Brown had already done for the teachers, particularly his strong advocacy for agency fees. This allows the union to collect representation fees from teachers who are not members of the union, and Brown helped pass legislation mandating negotiations on this issue in counties, like Frederick, that didn't already have the service fees called "fair share."
Brown is "a committed and proven leader on our issues," Brennan said. "He gets us, he knows us, and he will work with us."
Brown needed to get 58% of the vote from the representative assembly to win the endorsement in an up or down vote. Delegates could not vote for another candidate, only against endorsing him.
Mizeur supporters try to block endorsement
Two Frederick County teachers supporting Mizeur wanted the assembly to vote for her, based on Brown's support of the shift in teacher pension funding.
"The O'Malley-Bown mandates for teacher pension shifts indicate a willful continuation of making public education and teachers in Maryland less than important," said Adam Umak, an English teacher from Thurmont Middle School. Only Mizeur stood up for teachers, Umak said, not Brown, Gansler or "what's his name from Harford County." Mizeur had actively campaigned at the convention Friday and Saturday.
But Chris Lloyd, vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association in the largest school system, argued that polls showed Mizeur had little chance of winning. While "we won't agree on everything," Lloyd said Brown was the best candidate offering the teachers "a seat at the table" and a strong voice in policy.
As a Republican, Craig never had much of a shot at the endorsement, even though he had spent 34 years as a teacher and assistant principal in Edgewood Middle School. He was a member of the teachers union for 15 years.
Craig was the only candidate who filled out the questionnaire by hand and he took issue with several MSEA positions, and even wondered why it was asking about the minimum wage.
In the end, it was pretty much slam dunk for Brown, who said he knew the value of the teachers support in campaign volunteers and the Apple ballots which show teacher union support for state and local offices.
To broadcast their endorsement, MSEA is scheduled to begin three days of advertising on online news sites this week, paid for by their political action committee.