News from Florida: Can teacher unions become a third political party?

By 04/16/2010

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Governor Crist has vetoed the merit pay bill as part of his plan to run as a third party candidate for the open Senate seat in Florida. Since he would surely be defeated in a Republican primary, his third-party strategy has become increasingly obvious for weeks. What’s interesting about the latest development is Crist’s decision to form an alliance with teacher unions. Unions are typically hard-line Democrats; are they now ready to abandon a long-standing relationship in order to provide the financial backbone of the Crist campaign?

We know that teacher unions are among the most powerful interest groups in state politics, and we know that they spend more money than almost any other organization.  In Florida the NEA and AFT spent $1,209,262 million dollars between 2007 and 2008. Did they promise Crist a fat share of that amount in exchange for his veto?

We can only guess, though we will know for sure when all the financial data become available long after election day.

Crist certainly did not veto the legislation because of public anger at the possibility of merit pay for teachers.  Education Next polling data from a representative sample in Florida showed the public more supportive than opposed and ready to be led by a popular leader.

If Crist becomes Florida’s next Senator, the teacher unions can claim that they are not only the most powerful interest group in Florida but strong enough to underpin a third-party movement.

So Crist’s calculations were based not on the political popularity of the issue, but on winning support from a fat cat with plenty of disposable cash.

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