NEW ORLEANS — The president of the National Education Association acknowledges that the union is left-wing politically and 90 percent pro-Democrat but says he wants to reach out more to Republicans.
“I think many [Republican leaders in the Bush administration and Congress] feel as though we may not support as many Republicans as Democrats. That has been true in the past,” NEA President Reg Weaver told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview at the conclusion of the union’s annual convention here.
“However, we have been reaching out to many Republicans to try to get support of issues that are important to children and public education,” he said.
Mr. Weaver says he wants to find “common ground” on changes to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act on school reform.
The NEA president said part of his effort is to temper anti-Republican attacks by NEA officers and members that have polarized the union against the administration and Republican majority in Congress.
“I believe in the power of positive thinking, I really do,” he said. “And you will find that since I have been president, what I have tried to do was present the NEA with a different image because it was my goal to try to get more groups, individuals, media working with us to try to make the changes that I believe needed to be made to promote what my agenda was for the organization, which was to create an atmosphere that’s conducive to good teaching and learning and an atmosphere that is safe … for our students and our members.”
Throughout the NEA’s nine days of private caucuses and four-day convention, Mr. Bush and Republicans were the brunt of criticism and ridicule.
During two pre-convention political sessions June 29 to discuss the union’s strategy in the 2004 congressional and presidential elections, NEA chief Washington lobbyist Randall J. Moody referred to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and other Republican leaders as “right-wing extremists.”
“Since I have been [NEA] president, you have not found that to be public information,” Mr. Weaver said in the interview. “That has not been stated publicly. And you have not heard me as the spokesperson refer to anybody such as that.”
Mr. Weaver said a reporter from The Washington Times “happened to get in [the strategy session] somehow, but that was not a public gathering. Now, what I say to my members in Timbuktu might be different than what I say … to the public. But what I do is I try not to put people down.”
Mr. Weaver attended a June 29 luncheon for state NEA leaders at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel, where Kerry Kennedy Cuomo said, in her biggest applause line, “The Republican Party is the biggest danger to democracy.”
During the four-day convention, a widely circulated newsletter of the NEA Peace and Justice Caucus criticized the Iraq war and included a mock resume of Mr. Bush, saying he was the “first U.S. president to establish a secret shadow government.”
The full-page printed mock resume is headlined “Bushwacked!” and is topped with a picture portraying Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as the Scarecrow and the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” A caption above Mr. Bush says, “If I only had a brain!” and above Mr. Cheney says, “If I only had a heart!”
On Thursday, the convention of about 10,000 NEA members — current and retired teachers and school support employees — erupted in cheering and laughter as TV monitors in the hall showed a female delegate’s T-shirt declaring: “Bush reminds women of their first husband.”