For a gang of “educators,” Marie Blistan and her exorbitantly-paid accomplices at the New Jersey Education Association have a warped idea of what democracy means. The NJEA president claims that her organization’s campaign of lies, distortions and character assassination against Senate President Steve Sweeney is “what democracy looks like.”
That would come as a surprise to the teachers and students whose interests are being crushed by the small group of NJEA executives desperately trying to protect their personal fiefdoms. Blistan and her self-entitled pals are hiding behind the cover of “democracy” to preserve their unchecked power and unseemly compensation packages, which run from several hundred thousand dollars each to $1.2 million for its executive director, Ed Richardson, who doesn’t even live in New Jersey. His national counterpart takes in less than half that amount, while the executive director in Pennsylvania makes about a quarter as much.
The average compensation package for the top NJEA executives was $764,000 in 2015. Compare that with the average $70,000 salary of everyday teachers and you wonder: Why are they letting their fat-cat union “leaders” get away with it?
The hypocrisy is striking. The NJEA executives are running roughshod over the interests of its thousands of teacher members to unseat a senator, Steve Sweeney, who has spent his entire career fighting for better schools and increased education funding. He has been a tireless advocate for teachers, standing up for them against the anti-education forces in Trenton — and against a governor who has frequently demeaned them.
And who is the vengeful NJEA executive team trying to elect? Fran Grenier: a Chris Christie-Donald Trump Republican with no record of accomplishment and no history of supporting pro-education policies. He’s even called teachers “tax users” — not taxpayers. Given his alliance with anti-education politicians such as Christie and Trump, both of whom have tried to slash funding for schools and teachers here in New Jersey and in Washington, Grenier would not be a friend of either teachers, students or the NJEA itself in the unlikely event he’s elected in November. The Philadelphia Inquirer said Grenier “would have been dismissed long ago as too inexperienced” were it not for the millions of NJEA dollars propping him up.
The NJEA’s campaign against Steve Sweeney has nothing to do with democracy. Democracy is working with both sides of the aisle to secure an extra $131 million for New Jersey’s schools, and making sure every school receives its fair share; increasing the state minimum wage; funding new schools and playgrounds for disabled children and others with special needs; and protecting seniors’ property-tax rebates.
Steve Sweeney has done all of that and more. He won bipartisan support that brought more than $6 billion in capital investment to New Jersey. He secured funding for the expansion of Rowan University — expanding opportunities for students, creating hundreds of jobs and helping revitalize the region’s economy. And he led the fight to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families.
Despite the NJEA’s claims to the contrary, Steve Sweeney has spent the last eight years opposing Christie’s regressive education policies. Most recently, he led the fight against Christie’s nonsensical plan to divert money from the neediest school districts and lay off hundreds of teachers.
Those accomplishments have earned Sweeney widespread support across South Jersey and the state. More than a dozen groups have endorsed his reelection, including the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers, as well as major police, firefighters, labor and retail organizations. The Inquirer endorsed Steve, praising his willingness to work with both parties to reach “realistic” budget decisions for the good of his South Jersey constituents and the state. The Inquirer also cited Sweeney’s independence, saying he has refused to “walk in lockstep” with his party or the special interests.
Sweeney’s supporters know that NJEA executives are not spending $7 million to defeat an accomplished senator like Steve Sweeney in the name of “democracy.” Especially when they’re trying to elect a candidate like Fran Grenier, who supports a Chris Christie agenda that the NJEA leadership itself calls “despicable”; whose running mate called teachers “parasites”; and who has raised taxes on local residents while pocketing taxpayers’ dollars for jobs he rarely showed up for.
If the NJEA executives were truly interested in democracy, they would not be spending millions trying to elect a candidate aligned with Donald Trump, whose efforts to suppress free speech and a free press while condoning the depraved conduct of neo Nazis and other right-wing extremists, is a threat to our democratic values.
Steve Sweeney will always fight for those values. And he will always be the strong leader that New Jersey’s teachers, students and their families can depend on for the support they need. The working families of South Jersey know how much Sweeney’s leadership has meant for them. That’s why he will overcome the NJEA’s misguided campaign against him and continue fighting for the best interests of our region and the state.
Cody Miller is a member of the New Jersey Education Association, a councilman in Monroe Township in Gloucester County, and a consultant for Senate Democratic Majority.