EUGENE — Last weekend, Bill Bradbury hauled in endorsements from Oregon's most powerful education unions.
The development gave a huge short-term boost to Bradbury's gubernatorial campaign.
"It's a huge, huge step forward," said Bradbury, after representatives of the 47,000-member Oregon Education Association voted at their convention to endorse him for governor.
But it also carries longer-term consequences for whoever wins May's Democratic primary.
Bradbury, Oregon's former secretary of state, received the OEA endorsement—hours earlier he also picked up the backing of the American Federation of Teachers and the Oregon School Employees Association—after promising teachers everything they wanted.
Any grogginess from Friday-night partying in candidate hospitality suites at the Eugene Hilton disappeared Saturday afternoon among OEA delegates when they readily succumbed to what they referred to as "Bradbury fever."
In between getting half-minute standing ovations from delegates before and after he spoke, Bradbury promised them he would come up with an extra $2 billion to fully fund what's known as the "Quality Education Model."
"Why waste another 10 years planning a new model when we aren't funding the one we have?" Bradbury asked, pledging that closing tax loopholes would generate the money.
Bradbury also rejected any proposed changes to the state's Public Employees Retirement System and called the idea of merit pay for teachers "ridiculous."
All those commitments leave Bradbury open—if he wins the Democratic nomination—to the Republican nominee telling middle-of-the-road voters in the fall election that Bradbury is captive to teacher unions.
And if Bradbury prevails in the general election, his promises could hamstring his ability to compromise when it comes time as governor to deal with the state budget in 2011.
Bradbury wrested the endorsements from former Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber, who's been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and many private-sector unions, took criticism from OEA delegates for his answers on the union's questionnaire.
Kitzhaber wrote that "we are not going to have the resources to fully fund the QEM given the projected revenue picture for 2011-2013."
And while Kitzhaber opposes directly tying teacher salaries to student performance, he added that he supports "creation—with the involvement of teachers—of a teacher/administrator performance assessment tool linked to student performance and based on multiple factors.…"
Those answers helped cost him the OEA's endorsement, though one union rep credited Kitzhaber for sounding like the "head coach" rather than a "cheerleader."
But those answers would help Kitzhaber—if he wins the Democratic nomination—to inoculate himself from attack about being in the teacher unions' pocket. And if he were to win the general election, he's left himself more negotiating room as governor on the state budget in 2011 by not making any education funding promises.
The most immediate question, of course, is whether Bradbury's new endorsements will come with big money.