- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Teachers have their sights set on another Republican governor.

After leading the charge to force Wisconsin’s Scott Walker into a June 5 recall election, educators in Louisiana have launched a similar petition drive against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal over his school-reform agenda, which includes the weakening of teacher-tenure policies and an expanded voucher program.

Organizers have 180 days to garner about 940,000 signatures, roughly one-third of all registered voters in the state. The recall effort is also targeting state House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, a Republican who has championed Mr. Jindal’s agenda in the Legislature.

Thus far, the state’s two largest teachers unions — the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) — have not formally signed on to the effort, which was started by a Calcasieu Parish instructor who has described herself as “fed up” with the governor’s proposals.

“I think this is something organic filtering up from the grass roots,” LFT spokesman Les Landon said. “There is a lot of anger out there over what this governor is doing.”

Just as they did in Wisconsin last year, teachers in Louisiana have staged several protests in front of the Statehouse. Instructors in one district even canceled class in order to picket.

Mr. Jindal’s critics face a steeper climb than their counterparts in Wisconsin, who had to gather about 540,000 signatures from a significantly larger populace to force a recall election later this year. But the mounting backlash in Louisiana demonstrates how politically treacherous it has become for Republican governors to take on public-sector unions and their members.

Should either recall effort succeed, many conservatives fear that future leaders will simply give up on bold reforms, rather than risk their careers.

“Politicians will no longer be courageous if this is what happens to them,” Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “They’ll no longer take on the drivers of their debt, the root causes of their … problems, if this is what you get.”

That reluctance, Mr. Ryan said, could also apply at the federal level as Republicans push for needed changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Being forced into recall elections or being the victim of nasty advertising campaigns, analysts say, could give some reformers second thoughts.

Even for those who successfully tackled major problems, such as Mr. Walker and Mr. Jindal, the beating they’ve taken during the process could make them gun-shy in the future, said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank.

“They’ve tackled them, but the question is, do they get scared off by this near-death experience from ever doing anything again?” he said. “You’re really seeing public employees saying, ‘We’re so angry, we’ve got to do something. So let’s see if we can get this jerk out of office, or at least scare him enough that he doesn’t ever do anything like this again.’ “

Joyce Haynes, LAE president, said Monday that Republican governors across the country have begun an orchestrated “nationwide plan to take over our public schools” by redirecting taxpayer dollars to charter and private institutions, while at the same time demonizing educators in traditional schools.

“Teachers can’t believe they’re under attack and being blamed for all the ills of society,” she said. “This is about the dismantling of public education. We’ve watched this in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. We saw that this is what [Republican governors] are about — running our schools like a small business.”

Both the LAE and the LFT have not closed the door on endorsing the petition drive, and could set their sights on Mr. Jindal after the current legislative session ends, both unions said.

So far, however, no one in the governor’s mansion is panicking. There have been at least four previous attempts to recall Mr. Jindal, all of which failed. In fact, there has never been a successful recall drive against a statewide or parishwide official in Louisiana’s history.

“We’re not concerned and not surprised that the coalition of the status quo is trying to intimidate people who want to improve our schools,” Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said.

While both have greatly angered teachers’ unions, there are key differences between Mr. Walker’s reforms and the ones proposed in Louisiana. Most notably, Mr. Jindal’s legislation does not strip teachers of their collective-bargaining rights, as the Wisconsin bills did.

Short of a major push by state teaches unions and help from their national counterparts — like the effort that forced the Wisconsin recall — analysts think the Jindal petition effort is likely going nowhere.

“The Jindal thing just doesn’t look very credible,” Mr. Finn said.

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