By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The editorial writers at the Washington Post, with righteous fervor, have launched an anticorruption campaign against a Maryland political leader and strategist, Jon Gerson, and his clients.
In two recent editorials, including one in today's newspaper, Gerson's bunch is accused by the Post of "heavy-handed tactics" and political "thuggery," of using "corrupting" campaign practices, of demanding "shakedowns," and of generally acting like "a special interest group run amok."
This being Maryland, where the cleanliness of state politics matches that of Illinois and Massachusetts, one reads such epithets with alarm. What evils have the Post's renowned investigative teams uncovered? What slimy interest group has ventured into its crosshairs?
Crestfallen, I was, to discover that the target of this ire is merely a local suburban teachers' union. And the "corrupting" tactics that the union practices? In election years, it asks the candidates that it endorses to help bear the cost of printing, mailing, and otherwise distributing the literature that bears its endorsements.
I am not making this up. This is the supposed corrupt shakedown that has inspired two semi-hysterical editorials.
I am obligated to disclose, at this point, that I am not without interest in this topic. My spouse is a teacher in suburban Montgomery County, and belongs to this particular union. My sister is a teacher. I have two sisters-in-law who are teachers. My stepmother was a teacher. Needless to say, I don't share the Post's fear of thuggish educators.
But I have tried hard to be objective, and to look for the supposed evil in the union's "shakedown."
Here is how things work where I live. Candidates declare for office. They raise funds and seek endorsements. This being the suburbs, various property owners, real estate developers, taxpayer groups, and business organizations choose up sides, endorse, and donate. So do unions. If a candidate gets a prized endorsement--like that of the Washington Post, for example--the lucky office-seeker almost always prints and distributes that complimentary news in the mail and at the polls.
So if the Post endorses a candidate, the candidate pays to print and circulate the endorsement. And if the teachers' union endorses a candidate, the candidate pays to print and circulate the endorsement--albeit indirectly.
The Post does not suggest that the union endorsement is worthless, and that the candidates are not getting value for their money. Far from it. The editors call the union a "kingmaker." Nor does the paper suggest what better route the teachers might follow to raise the necessary money to publicize their endorsements. Should they solicit funds from textbook companies? I guess the paper wants the union to raise dues, and give the starving politicians a break. Maybe it would be better if the union made its endorsements in secret! Nah, that wouldn't help the poor pols either.
What happens to a politician who takes the endorsement but doesn't contribute to the distribution costs? According to the Post, Gerson "expressed his intense displeasure" with one such cheapskate. Gee, somehow, I don't see that qualifying as "thuggery."
Are Montgomery County teachers greedy? No more so than anyone else. Even the Post begrudgingly notes that the teachers voluntarily gave up their contractual raises when the recession hit home last year. That's right. You heard me correctly. According to the county contract, my wife was legally entitled to a raise last year, but she and the other teachers, recognizing the impact of hard times on the schools (and listening to the sound advice of leaders like Gerson) offered to give it up.
Are the teachers lazy? Do they do a bad job? Not if you believe the Post. Why, just today the paper carried the news that Maryland led the nation in Advanced Placement test performance in 2009. And Montgomery County, which has ably made the transformation from a lily-white school district to a majority-minority district in the last three decades, leads the state in the number of AP courses taken. Nearly half of its high school graduates, and 21 percent of its African-American graduates, the Post informed us, took and passed at least one college-level AP course. It sounds like the taxpayers are getting what they paid for.
As I said, I am not an uninterested observer in this case. So take this with as big a grain of salt as you prefer. But I think the Post owes the teachers a correction, if not an apology, for recklessly tossing around words like "corrupt" and "shakedown."
My wife works hard, and cares deeply about her job. She is no thug, and doesn't deserve to be called one.