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Antonucci: California Teachers Association elected a new president. Then, it ousted its powerful executive director. Coincidence?

Mike Antonucci | July 24, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

The California Teachers Association surprised just about everyone in the state’s education arena — including me — last week by abruptly dismissing executive director and longtime political powerhouse Joe Nuñez.

“The California Teachers Association recognizes the accomplishments and legacy of veteran educator and union advocate Joe Nuñez who has been the CTA Executive Director for the last six years. Nuñez is leaving the association following a vote by the Board of Directors to end his relationship with CTA,” reads the union’s July 17 press statement.

The move came a mere two weeks after Toby Boyd assumed the presidency of the 325,000-member union. Boyd was elected in an upset victory over sitting Vice President Theresa Montaño, after receiving an unexpected last-minute endorsement from outgoing President Eric Heins.

Are Boyd’s victory and Nuñez’s departure connected? A source who spoke to Politico’s Jeremy B. White seemed to think so.

“It’s an unfortunate and ugly inside game,” the source said, adding that “there’s no question it’s a board that to some degree has a new orientation and has a different point of view about how to move the political equation forward.”

A CTA local president from Bakersfield also spoke to White, claiming Nuñez’s ouster was orchestrated by Montaño supporters on the board. It’s unclear how getting rid of Nuñez was a blow against Boyd.

Nuñez made a name for himself as the union’s director of government relations. Capitol Weekly routinely named him one of the top “influence peddlers, power brokers and political players in California.”

“His official title is associate executive director for government relations, but what he really does is back the teachers’ political friends and punish their enemies – and they have a lot of both,” Capitol Weekly wrote in 2011.

Nuñez was appointed to the state Board of Education by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2001 and reappointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Columnist Dan Weintraub called it “the equivalent of George Bush appointing Michael Moore as his ambassador to Iraq.”

In 2012, the Los Angeles Times published a huge story on just how much power Nuñez had:

Last year, as Gov. Jerry Brown hammered out final details of the state budget, he huddled around a conference table with three of the most powerful people in state government: The Assembly speaker, the Senate leader — and Joe Nuñez, chief lobbyist for the California Teachers Association.

California was on the edge of fiscal crisis. Negotiations had come down to one sticking point: Brown and the legislators would balance the books by assuming billions of dollars in extra revenue would materialize, then cut deeply from schools if it didn’t.

Nuñez said no.

Opposition from the powerful union, which had just staged a week of public protests against budget cuts, could mean a costly legal challenge.

So the group took a break, and the elected officials retired to another room to hash out something acceptable to CTA while Nuñez awaited their return.

This isn’t the kind of civics lesson you get at school, but CTA has operated this way for many years before Nuñez came on board. Nuñez’s successor, whoever that may be, will be expected to do the same.

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