Teacher vote could be major factor in governor's race

Teacher vote could be major factor in governor's race

August 30th, 2010 by Ben Benton in Politics Regional


Nathan Deal promises to "take power away from education bureaucrats and empower local leaders to cater their plans to their local needs and resources."

He said he wants more options for students and parents "to give them greater choice in public education."

Roy Barnes promises not to support teacher furloughs. He says he boosted teacher pay by 16 percent as governor, "making Georgia educators the highest-paid educators in the Southeast."

He promises to support incentives for teacher development and pledges to have two classroom teachers on his staff.

Source: Candidates' campaign websites

Some educators say Georgia's gubernatorial race could be a choice between the devil they know and the devil they don't.

"I think it's a lesser of evils for a lot of people in the teaching profession," said Dean Donehoo, Murray County Schools administrative services director and a former history teacher.

Educators and experts say Democrat Roy Barnes infuriated teachers when he eliminated tenure while he was governor from 1999 to 2002. Former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a North Georgia Republican, is relatively unknown at the state level and his education platform lacks detail, some say.

The two go up against each other in the Nov. 2 general election.

Donehoo said he liked Barnes' early reforms as governor, such as reduced class sizes and accountability, but they riled Georgia teachers. Although Barnes angered some by removing the Confederate battle cross from the state flag while he was governor, it was educators who did him in when he ran for re-election, Donehoo said.

"Anybody who thinks it was the Confederate flag-wavers that defeated Roy is wrong; he was defeated by the teachers," he said.

A Rasmussen poll conducted Aug. 11 shows Deal leading Barnes 51 percent to 42 percent, with 6 percent supporting another candidate or undecided. An InsiderAdvantage/WSB-TV poll from Aug. 19 shows Deal leading 45 percent to 41 percent, with 14 percent supporting another candidate or undecided.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said that, with more than 100,000 teachers statewide, educators could become a deciding factor in the race.

"I think [Barnes] has a sense of that, too, and that's why he's seeking their forgiveness," he said. "What is unknown is the degree to which those apologies are being accepted."

They apparently are being accepted by some. This month, the 43,000-member Georgia Association of Educators threw its support behind Barnes. The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, with almost 80,000 members, does not endorse.

Deal, on the other hand, could suffer from not being closely identified with education, Bullock said.

"I don't think Deal has generally been seen as the heir to [Gov. Sonny] Perdue," the retiring Republican governor, he said. "But Deal hasn't been active either for or against education now for almost two decades."

Walker County teacher Jim Barrett, is a member of the Georgia Association of Educators and Walker County Association of Educators, predicted "a tough race for both of them."

"I have concerns that Nathan's plan for education is not specific enough to address systemic issues across our state," Barrett said, noting that Georgia Association of Educators' membership is about 40 percent Republican despite the Barnes endorsement.

He thinks teachers will be split between conservative values and state funding reductions that led to furloughs, cutbacks and layoffs.

But he also said he is "extremely apprehensive about Gov. Barnes based on his past performance."

"Because of his alienating so many teachers in his last administration, he has worked very hard, it seems like, to put together a very specific plan for education. It is garnering more attention from teachers around the state," Barrett said.

Dade County teachers Tom Randolph and Matt Jelley hope the next governor is prepared for the impact of $400 million in federal Race to the Top funding that Georgia netted last week.

Jelley and Randolph said Dade teachers would watch for both candidates to begin developing ideas on how to spend Race to the Top money on educational reforms.

Both said they believe North Georgia teachers are likely to cast votes based on the candidates' potential impact on the state overall, rather than strictly on education issues.

"I certainly agree that past grievances will hurt Barnes as he approaches teachers," Jelley said. "I think, too, there needs to be a more comprehensive effort into putting some details and giving some legs to Deal's platform."

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