Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Elections Have Consequences

18_news_fall_YourVoice-DIGITAL.jpg By: Mark Wiggins, ATPE Lobbyist

“Elections belong to the people… If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
This quote, attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, could just as well have been written yesterday. Imagine what Honest Abe would think if he looked at our voter turnout figures from recent years. Here’s a sobering history lesson: 81 percent of registered voters turned out for the US presidential election of 1860, in which Lincoln seized the presidency for the Republican Party. In terms of turnout, voters in Lincoln’s time were cooking.
Contrast that with the less than 56 percent of US voters who participated in the 2016 election, which resulted in Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote and Donald Trump clinching the presidency through the Electoral College. In the March 2018 Texas primary elections, just 17 percent of Texas voters participated in selecting their party nominees—who, in most cases, will win by default in November due to political gerrymandering and lack of opposition from another party. If you do the math, each person who voted in the primary did the choosing for 11 other Texans.
Let that marinate for a bit.
Elections have consequences. In Texas, the consequences have been leaders in the legislature who have pursued harmful legislation to defund and privatize public schools, underfund teachers’ healthcare, sell out teachers’ retirement—oh, and rob educators of their political voice so they can’t complain about it.
ATPE narrowly fended off most of these attacks last session with the help of a handful of pro-public education lawmakers, some of whom considered helping teachers to be politically risky. Playing defense is getting harder each year, and the only way to guarantee that Texas focuses on improving our schools rather than starving them is to elect pro-public education candidates.
Texas is not the only place where this battle is being fought. We’ve seen strikes in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and West Virginia. ATPE’s tenets oppose school strikes, and Texas law prohibits them. Striking teachers could even lose their pensions. But we have access to a tactic even more powerful than a strike: a vote.
Our strike must be at the ballot box. And we must strike hard in November.
Gone are the days when we could afford to let someone else choose for us or accept an “aw, shucks” from our colleagues who have yet to vote. The stakes are real, and those who want to turn kids into cogs and gamble with your pension are sharpening their steel for a bitter struggle in the next legislative session.
The good news is people everywhere are waking up to the years of abuse and neglect perpetrated against our schools. Leaders like Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) have recognized the state’s declining contribution to school funding—down to 38 percent from a roughly 50-50 split with local taxpayers a decade ago—and prioritized fixing our school finance system. Yet Straus is retiring, and his absence will no doubt be exploited by contrasting leaders like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, whose priorities have included such anti-public education initiatives as vouchers and making it harder for educators to join associations and advocate for their professions.
Texas are waking up to the realization that elections do matter. They are learning that there are important choices to be made at the polls and that they can choose candidates—irrespective of party affiliation—who will support public schools.
The challenge is to turn this awakening into action, to urge every eligible voter to select strong, pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot on Nov. 6.
The stakes are no less than your students and your profession.  

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