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Antonucci: Will the California Teachers Association endorse Feinstein over former employee De León?

Mike Antonucci | April 24, 2018

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

The California Teachers Association is in a unique position this election year. Two men who were once on CTA’s payroll are running for the two highest elected offices in the state — governor and U.S. Senator. It is very possible the union will recommend both of their opponents.

CTA has already endorsed and begun campaigning for Gavin Newsom, choosing him over Antonio Villaraigosa. Most people are aware that Villaraigosa was once an organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles. It isn’t well-remembered that CTA also hired him as a consultant during his unsuccessful run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001.

After Villaraigosa became mayor on his second try in 2005, he broke ranks with the teachers’ union, embracing mayoral control of the city’s schools and the expansion of charters. It was no surprise that CTA chose Newsom.

The U.S. Senate campaign is not so clear-cut. CTA has a lukewarm relationship with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, mostly because her views are more moderate than the union would prefer. If CTA were to make a clean break with Feinstein, this would seem to be their chance. Her primary opponent is former state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León.

De León worked for CTA for five years. During his time in the California legislature, he has been a staunch supporter of union positions. But one of the criteria CTA uses in determining whether to recommend candidates is “their viability for success in the office that they are seeking.” Feinstein has 15 times more money in her campaign war chest than de León has in his. She also holds a 26-point lead over de León in a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll.

De León is not without powerful backers. He was endorsed by the state chapter of the Service Employees International Union and the California Labor Federation. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer has thrown his support behind de León and could close the money gap with Feinstein rapidly.

In its only official action to date on the U.S. Senate race, CTA designated Feinstein a “Tier 2” incumbent. According to CTA’s evaluation standards, this means she has excellent ratings in at least three of five categories: voting record, access at the capitol, access in the district, communications, and leadership.

But it also means she must have a face-to-face meeting with a CTA team to “address any concerns.” Only then can her recommendation move forward.

California’s primary system places the top two vote-getters in the general election, regardless of party. With no viable Republican candidates in the field, it is likely de León and Feinstein will both advance to November, giving CTA extra time to decide.

An added complication is that once the campaign moves to the general election, it becomes the purview of NEA. The national union rarely goes against the wishes of its state affiliates when issuing endorsements, but de León is a unique candidate in NEA’s eyes.

He once worked for NEA as well.

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