“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.
That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools here in Tennessee, and now as the CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.
This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III, formerly of the Tennessean, also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree. The formula is simple: Dark Money + Union Money = Corrupt Politics
Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on our member’s behalf.
When we take our message to policymakers, they understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be the educators voice in Tennessee. We are not a state chapter of a national organization. We are created by, and for, Tennessee educators. Our focus is on Tennessee.
We encourage our members to register to vote. We encourage them to vote. We encourage them to campaign for the candidates that reflect their values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell them who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our state, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.