- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

The head of the National Education Association opened the largest school union’s annual convention yesterday with a call for public school teachers and employees to mobilize politically to help defeat President Bush this fall.

“I know that if we put forth our best effort, we are going to win,” Reg Weaver told a cheering audience in a 30-minute speech in which he criticized Mr. Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige.

“Our 2.7 million members can be the ‘X-factor’ in this election. We and our pro-public-education allies can and will make a decisive difference,” he said.

The convention votes tomorrow on the NEA’s endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator is scheduled to address the convention tomorrow.

The union is collaborating with the liberal organization MoveOn.org to coordinate nationwide political “house parties.”

The parties, described as “the largest mobilization for education ever” are being organized nationwide to plan political rallies, register voters, set up meetings with congressional candidates, “and design a program to make sure your parents, teachers and community members will get to the polls in November,” according to brochures distributed to 10,000 NEA delegates at the Washington Convention Center.

The union had sign-up cards for the house parties, and NEA political action committee staffers recruited delegates all day yesterday to participate and make political donations in an adjoining cafeteria.

At about 2 p.m. yesterday, screens and TV monitors throughout the convention floor flashed the names of five leading states — California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington — whose delegates had ponied up a total of $1.57 million to date in political contributions.

The sign-up brochure described as sponsoring “partner organizations” ACORN, the Campaign for America’s Future and MoveOn.org.

“We thought it was an activity that could galvanize our members to help fix and fund [the] No Child Left Behind [Act of 2001],” Mr. Weaver told The Washington Times during a convention recess.

“I’m trying to activate our members. I’m about mobilizing and stimulating our folks” so that the school union’s political activism “takes center stage” for the remainder of the presidential campaign, he said.

Yesterday, union officials distributed 10,000 fliers to individual state caucuses informing them that filmmaker Michael Moore’s anti-Bush film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” would be shown to delegates in the convention hall tomorrow immediately after Mr. Kerry’s speech.

The announcement of the showing and the strongly anti-Bush tone of the convention brought grumbling from Republican members, who make up more than one-fourth of the union’s total membership.

One such member, Sissy Jochmann from the Pennsylvania delegation, called the Moore film “vicious” and said she would publicly call for “a timeout” if union leaders and members continued “bullying us with all their anti-Bush and anti-Republican rhetoric.”

Even liberal political commentator Christopher Hitchens, who was an Oxford University friend and roommate of President Clinton’s during the 1970s, has described “Fahrenheit 9/11” as “a big lie and a big misrepresentation.”

The film claims that terrorist Osama bin Laden’s family had a close business relationship with Mr. Bush’s family and that the wars to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq were motivated by greed.

Mr. Weaver defended NEA’s showing of the film, which the flier said was donated by Mr. Moore so the union could raise more political funds. Delegates have been asked to contribute $20 to the NEA PAC to see the film.

“Some delegates from Wisconsin were sitting around at dinner the other night and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have [the film] at the NEA Representative Assembly,’” Mr. Weaver said.

“People contacted members of the California delegation. The next thing I knew, we got it. It’s voluntary. If people don’t want to watch it, they don’t have to,” the union president said.

In his speech, Mr. Weaver repeated his complaint that the administration has refused to accept NEA positions and “the expertise that this organization brings to the table.”

Mr. Weaver chastised the administration for “broken promises” to fully fund the No Child Left Behind law. “This administration wants to cut you off at the knees, and then blame you for not being able to walk,” he said.

He attacked government spending for the military action against deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“For what we have paid for the war in Iraq, we could have paid for 17,066,831 children to attend Head Start; provided health insurance for 51,741,858 children; hired 2,299,310 additional teachers; paid for 3,061,859 four-year scholarships to a public university,” he said.

And he repeated the NEA’s attack against the administration’s federal school-reform program that was enacted by a bipartisan congressional majority.

“There is no way around it: No Child Left Behind forces us to spend money we don’t have, on programs we don’t need, to get results that don’t matter.”

Republicans have disputed the NEA’s claims regarding underfunding of the Title I school program for low-income school districts, saying federal spending has increased 51 percent since Mr. Bush took office. Title I spending was $8.8 billion in the final Clinton administration budget and is $13.3 billion this year.

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