Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Mike Ross received the endorsement of the statewide teachers’ union on Saturday and his probable Republican challenger wasted no time tagging Ross with a “liberal” label.
Ross – whose mother was a teacher and whose father was a teacher, principal and superintendent – said he would be rolling out planks of an education plan later in his campaign, but his focus would be on “reducing the state’s achievement gap” and encouraging innovation. Ross said his education platform would also include more local control over curricula and flexibility to meet community needs.
“Both my parents were public school educators, so I understand, appreciate and respect the important role our educators and education support professionals have in the future of this great state, and I am very proud to accept their endorsement,” said Ross in accepting the endorsement of the Arkansas Education Association (AEA).
“Strengthening public education in Arkansas will be one of my top priorities, because we need a well-educated, highly-skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future and to ensure our children can compete in a rapidly-changing global economy. I want our children to start sooner and finish stronger, with more children attending pre-kindergarten classes and making sure every Arkansas high school student graduates both college and career ready.”
AEA President Brenda Robinson, a Little Rock school teacher, announced the group’s endorsement, touting Ross as the best candidate to improve public education in Arkansas.
“Mike understands that when parents and educators work together, they give students a great chance to grow and learn, so he will expand opportunities for collaborative family, school and community partnerships,” said Robinson. “He supports quality after-school programs, summer learning programs, and early childhood education. For all these reasons, the AEA believes that Mike Ross will fight to continue the progress Arkansas public schools are making in preparing our children for today’s competitive economy, and AEA members and leaders will work tirelessly for his election.”
Ross faces Democratic primary challenger Lynette Bryant of Little Rock in the May 20 primary.
Ross’ likely Republican opponent – Asa Hutchinson, who faces GOP challenger Curtis Coleman of North Little Rock – issued a statement through his campaign spokesman calling Ross “out of touch.”
Describing the AEA as the state affiliate of the “left-leaning National Education Association,” Hutchinson spokesman Christian Olson said the teachers’ endorsement didn’t support Ross’ contention that he is independent.
“Congressman Ross demonstrates yet again how out of touch he is with Arkansans. This union endorsement is another example that Congressman Ross pretends to be an independent in Arkansas but given the chance will side with his liberal friends,” said Olson. “In this case he has joined with the national teachers unions who put their liberal ideals ahead of our kids.”
The Democratic Party of Arkansas responded to the Hutchinson campaign statement. DPA spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle said, “Congressman Hutchinson’s attack on Arkansas teachers is shameful and he should apologize. Saying Arkansas teachers put anything ‘ahead of our kids’ when you have an education record as bad as Congressman Hutchinson’s is cynical D.C. politics at its worst.”
Hutchinson served in Congress representing Arkansas’ Third District from 1997 to 2001.
“When Congressman Hutchinson went to Washington he left Arkansas’ teachers and students behind. Congressman Hutchinson voted to cut education funding repeatedly, even voting several times against increased funding for special education, after-school centers, Head Start and class-size initiatives,” Burgwinkle added.
The Ross campaign provided a transcript of Ross’ remarks after the AEA endorsement. It also provided comments made by Tom Dooher, executive director of the AEA.
Mike Ross, Democratic gubernatorial candidate:
“Now, moments before I got here, Asa Hutchinson has already put out a statement blasting these teachers and education support professionals behind me. What Asa fails to mention in his statement is that he came to Little Rock, he sat in that room over there, and he interviewed and asked these teachers for their endorsement. And, after he didn’t get it, here’s what he now says: he says these teachers are nothing more than union bosses and that they remind him of Pelosi & Obama. Look it up. Next thing you know he’ll be blaming the ice storm on Pelosi & Obama.
“I think Asa Hutchinson has spent too much time living, working and voting in the Washington, D.C. area, because he seems to think this is a race for President, or Senate or Congress. But, Congressman Hutchinson, let me be clear, I don’t know about you, but I’m running to lead the state of Arkansas.
“This race has nothing whatsoever to do with Washington. The last thing we need is to see Washington partisan politics right here in this State Capitol. I’m committed to working with everybody – Democrat, Republican, Independent – to get the job done. He says in his statement – Asa says that these teachers do not care about our children.
“Asa Hutchinson, you can attack me. I’m willing to take the hits if that’s what it takes to improve public education in Arkansas and to create more good-paying jobs in this state. “But, do not attack these teachers and education support professionals standing behind me today – the same teachers and education support professionals that you sought an endorsement from just a few weeks ago.
“So, today, I am publicly demanding that Asa Hutchinson apologize to the teachers and education support professionals of Arkansas. Thank you very much.”
Tom Dooher, Arkansas Education Association Executive Director:
“My name is Tom Dooher, I’m the executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, and we have [a] few questions for Congressman Hutchinson.
“Is it left leaning that all of our children in Arkansas have early childhood education opportunities? Is it left leaning that they have a safe school and that they’re transported safely with qualified bus drivers? Is it left leaning that we have our children with the opportunity to go to college or get a career-ready education when they leave our public schools?
“So, Congressman Hutchinson, the teachers and education professionals behind me ask you those questions and we want you to come and help us develop a world education system here in Arkansas. And, we are supporting Mike Ross because he believes that our children are the future and that Arkansas’s great economic development will land on the children of our state. Thank you very much.”