The long, front page spread in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times examining the California Teachers Association did not surprise followers of the shenanigans that pass for deliberative government in Sacramento. Like the railroads of the late 19th and early 20th century, the teachers union is influential to the point of being controlling in Sacramento.
The Times reporter, Michael J. Mishak, painted a full picture of the CTA’s dominance, none more telling than in his lead where he described the budget being hashed out last year by the governor, the senate leader, the speaker of the assembly and the CTA lobbyist.
USC’s Initiative & Referendum Institute notes that California’s push for Direct Democracy in the early 1900s came about because, “The entire state government had for decades been under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad.” How is the influence wheeled by CTA any different than the railroad barons of a century ago, when pressure from CTA can write budgets, influence bills, and make politicians cringe about their political futures if they cross the powerful union?
The Times article quotes the union president, Dean Vogel’s defense of his union’s influence as being positive for school children: “When you’ve got a union of professional educators on one side and you’ve finally got people in key positions in the state government on the other, and you’re all speaking with one voice … I think that’s pretty good for the kids of California.”
That statement is hardly consistent with the union’s action in defeating a bill by Democratic senator Alex Padilla that would have sped up the process to dismiss teachers who have practiced “egregious” conduct such as carrying out lewd acts on children.
The situation reminds me of one of the quotes attributed to noted teacher’s union official, Albert Shanker: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”
While the Times’ article reflects meek and controlled rather than independent government officials, CTA officers probably read it differently. I imagine the union leaders read the article and proudly said, ‘Right on!’
As with the railroads of yore, the only way to control this outsized influence is for the voters of California to cut it down to size.