By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
At the Oakland Democratic Party event on election night, CTA President David A. Sanchez and CTA Vice President Dean Vogel cheer moments after the announcement of the victory of Jerry Brown for California governor.
CTA leaders huddled together anxiously, eyes jumping between the big screen projecting the live feed of election results from the secretary of state’s website and the TVs showing CNN and KRON 2 San Francisco election coverage. This was the moment it had all come to — months of members volunteering, phone banking, talking to family and friends. Would Jerry win? What about Boxer? She was in a tough race. And what about Proposition 24, the Tax Fairness Act? Would the fear tactics of its opponents prevail?
Shortly before 9 p.m., the good news began to roll in: The Capitol Weekly was declaring Jerry Brown the winner of the race for governor over Republican Meg Whitman, with 10 percent of the precincts reporting. Then the Associated Press called the U.S. Senate race for incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer over GOP challenger Carly Fiorina.
For CTA members and staff at the Oakland Marriott, the waiting was over. The vigil turned into a party, and members cheered, pumped their fists in the air and hugged one another. Some who had worked nonstop on the campaign had tears in their eyes.
CTA galvanized its members, as well as friends of public education, in the battle to elect Brown, who has the ability to lead this state out of fiscal crisis, bring collaboration back to Sacramento and restore our public schools to greatness. The alternative was Meg Whitman, a billionaire with no government experience, who planned to “run schools as a business,” cut billions more from education, and continue on the downward path of the present governor, whose inexperience has caused unnecessary damage to our schools and state during tough economic times.
With the election of Torlakson, a former classroom teacher, CTA members have a friend and a place at the table when it comes to education reform. The legislator who authored the CTA-backed Quality Education Investment Act — a bill that secured funding to bring extra resources to struggling schools — has vowed to help schools get the funding and support they desperately need.
Boxer’s re-election was also crucial. With so many conservatives recently elected to seats in Washington, Sen. Boxer will continue to be a voice of reason and work hard to see that schools are supported at the federal level.
The passage of CTA-supported Proposition 25, which does away with the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget, will make it possible for the state budget to be passed on time, saving hundreds of millions of dollars and allowing schools to plan their budgets in advance.
Unfortunately, CTA-sponsored Proposition 24, which would have closed tax loopholes for large corporations and helped to increase funding for schools, was rejected by voters.
CTA leaders on the election results
“This was a very important election,” said CTA President David A. Sanchez. “The end result was that voters made it clear their vote was not for sale — and this election could not be bought. And it was really the working class that turned out to vote and send this message. Voters also sent a clear message with their candidate choices that they wanted leaders who respected teachers and would work with us to improve our struggling schools. The real winners tonight are our students, schools and colleges.”
Sanchez also expressed appreciation to members and staff for the hard work that went into the 2010 campaign. “Take it from me, CTA members made a big difference in this election. And their work to mobilize our members was the key to making that happen.”
“What stood out in this campaign is that the entire labor community came together to support Jerry Brown for governor,” said CTA Vice President Dean Vogel. “It was a great team effort. So much of this campaign was about labor bashing coming from the far right, trying to energize their base. But even though union bashing was on television all the time, it didn’t mean this was the view held by the public, or that this message resonated with the general public. Californians still believe in public education — and believe in teachers.”
“It proves that there is nothing that teachers can’t accomplish if they work together,” said CTA Secretary-Treasurer Gail Mendes. “And that’s exactly what we did. Even though Proposition 24 did not pass, we have laid the groundwork for continuing this battle in the future.”
Some of CTA’s opponents spent millions of their own money, and seemed to have an unlimited supply. Their negative messages saturated the airwaves with lies and misconceptions, as they attempted to capitalize on voter unhappiness with the slow pace of the economic recovery in California. But still CTA prevailed, thanks in large part to CTA’s 2010 Campaign Workgroup and its careful planning, which included good ole grassroots organizing combined with the power of social media.
“The key part of our strategy was nonstop talking to our members,” said CTA Board member Bonnie Shatun, who serves as the board liaison to the workgroup and CTA’s Political Involvement Committee. “We encouraged building reps and CTA leaders throughout the state to have relational meetings and talk to their members one-on-one. And we insisted that these be two-way conversations.”
Those involved in CTA’s campaign also telephoned fellow members relentlessly to make sure they understood that the future of public education in California was at stake in this election, said Shatun. There was phone banking throughout the state, and hundreds of CTA State Council members engaged in phone banking during the October meeting.
All forms of social networking also came into play. “We had members using Facebook and posting to all their friends,” said Shatun. “Members were tweeting. We didn’t overlook social networking, and it made a huge difference. I’m relatively new to Facebook myself, but I jumped in and was posting to all my friends. Texting also played a huge part in our plan. Members signed up to receive text messages and tens of thousands were sent out about supporting candidates and propositions, and where to find polling places.”
“Many cogs in this wheel came together,” Shatun summed up.
Gayle Bilek, chair of the Campaign 2010 Workgroup and president of the Templeton Teachers Association, said that “canvass cards” were also instrumental in helping to galvanize members. CTA leaders carried cards for members to fill out, answering yes or no on whether they supported certain candidates and propositions. “It was a helpful way of bringing people into the conversation,” said Bilek. “And it gave us an opportunity for important conversations.”
Overall, said Bilek, the key to the campaign’s success was having members pull together as a cohesive group. “We made that happen, and everyone worked well together.”
“It was probably the best-coordinated campaign that I’ve ever seen CTA put on,” said Marc Sternberger, a member of the CTA Board. “I’ve been a part of CTA campaigns since the 1980s, and I was glad to see so many members getting involved.”
Students played a key role in the campaign, too. Areli Dohner-Chavez, president of Student CTA and a student at CSU Stanislaus, said students worked hard to get the message out to their friends, families and others about the importance of this election.
“We decided to focus on issues that had the most impact on students as a way of bringing attention to this election, rather than focusing on the party line,” said Chavez. “Issues like financial aid and tuition have a tremendous impact on students.”
Support of minority groups also played a huge role, said Sanchez. “Latinos and other groups came out in force in support of public schools,” he told those gathered at a CTA reception and watch party held at the Oakland Marriott on election night.
“I’m excited and I’m thrilled,” said CTA Board member Theresa Montaño, who represents higher education. “I would say it’s just unbelievable — especially when you look at everything that was working against us. I’m so proud of what our members were able to accomplish for our students.”
Newly elected officials thank CTA
CTA-supported candidates dropped by the Marriott reception to express heartfelt thanks to CTA members for their support.
“Teachers have been incredible and the rock of my campaign,” said Torlakson shortly before his victory was announced. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart. CTA helped me with a dynamic program including a virtual town hall and social media. I truly admire the creative powers of CTA during this whole endeavor.”
“I couldn’t do this without the support of teachers,” said newly re-elected U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). “The support of teachers has been very, very important to me, and I appreciate your steady support for me over the years. You do so much to help our children, which is also helping our future.”
Brown, the newly elected governor, held his own reception a few blocks away in Oakland at the Fox Theater. Supporters waited until shortly before 11 p.m. because Brown had not received a call from Whitman conceding the race. Finally, the governor-elect went onstage without receiving a call from his opponent, thanking his supporters for all they have done. Brown thanked his wife, Anne Gust Brown, and was surrounded by children from Oakland schools. Public schools, said Brown, are the future and the key to California’s recovery.
“My goal is for every single school in California to have what it needs,” said Brown. “Every kid has so much potential.” When making decisions, he said, politicians must keep this question in the forefront: Will it help the next generation?
Brown vowed to try to end the polarization of political parties, so that members on both sides can work together for the public good. “We are all God’s children, and I am hoping and praying that the breakdown that’s gone on so many years in the state Capitol and Washington will end, and that we can pave the way for a breakthrough,” he said.
“We needed change in our state, and that change was ushered in tonight,” said Sanchez. “I’m excited about Brown, Boxer and Torlakson, who are the winners. But the real winners tonight are the students in our public schools.”