March 6th, 2010 5:33 pm | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Bradbury and Kitzhaber Battle For Teacher Endorsements (UPDATED with OEA's decision)

Bradbury and Kitzhaber

EUGENE — The Oregon Education Association, a heavyweight player in any Democratic primary, decided this afternoon to endorse former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury in the Dems' gubernatorial primary this May.

The vote was 49,448 for Bradbury and 31,607 for former Gov. John Kitzhaber. The voting formula is a tad complicated but basically boils down to each of the 83 OEA locals getting its votes weighted by how much each donates to the powerful teachers' union's PAC.

The support of a large public employee union such as the 47,000-member OEA can be a huge matter in the primary because of the organization and money it can donate to a candidate. Bradbury made a big push for OEA's support, in hopes it could help him catch up to Kitzhaber in the polls and in fund-raising. The question now becomes how much money OEA will put behind Bradbury, a decided underdog according to the polls.

But for the moment, it was all cheers for Bradbury and his followers.

"It's a huge, huge step forward," said a smiling Bradbury while accepting congratulations from teachers and his supporters sporting green Team Bradbury T-shirts. Asked if he believed the teachers union would spend significant money on his candidacy, Bradbury said he hoped so and that he would begin work immediately to achieve that financial backing.

The vote came after Kitzhaber and Bradbury made their presentations to the 333 OEA delegates and took questions from the teachers gathered for the OEA convention at the Eugene Hilton. Bradbury drew an enthusiastic response from that crowd when he both promised to fully fund public education in Oregon by closing tax loopholes - and when he called merit pay "ridiculous."

"I will support a standardized test when you show me a standardized student," Bradbury said.

The toughest question Bradbury faced came from one teacher who asked about the viability of his candidacy in a general election against a Republican. He responded that polls show him and Kitzhaber doing well against a GOP opponent in November, and added that Kitzhaber starts the race with higher negatives from his two terms as governor.

Kitzhaber began his remarks by recounting his history as governor fighting to protect public education against both Bill Sizemore and a Legislature controlled by Republicans. He sought to defuse anger from some teachers over responses he gave earlier to the OEA that he favors basing school funding on performance rather than enrollment. Kitzhaber said he doesn't want opponents to "hijack" words like "reward" and "performance" - topics he said everybody should be trying to work together to improve.

Without mentioning Bradbury by name, Kitzhaber also said he wouldn't make promises he couldn't keep about more money for education. "Do we need more money for public education? Absolutely," Kitzhaber said. "But we need a realistic plan that works."

Earlier Saturday, the Oregon School Employees Association and American Federation of Teachers, representing about 33,000 people, announced their support for Bradbury.

Those endorsements marked the first major union backing for Bradbury in his battle with Kitzhaber for labor endorsements in the race.

The AFL-CIO yesterday endorsed Kitzhaber, who also has been backed by several private-sector unions, most recently including the Teamsters Joint Council 37, Boilermakers Local 500, the Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 1 Oregon, the Heat & Frost Insulators Local 36 and the Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Local 156.
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