AFT turns out the vote for problem-solving candidates

New York State United Teachers President Andrew Pallotta called her “a breath of fresh air.” AFT President Randi Weingarten noted that she is the first candidate for governor NYSUT has endorsed in many years.

The candidate in question is New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who stopped by the AFT’s virtual town hall Tuesday night to thank our members for their support and ask our New York members for their vote.

Photo of Randi Weingarten in Detroit with members
On the AFT Votes bus tour in October, AFT President Randi Weingarten addresses voters in Detroit. Photo credit: Alexandra Palombo

“I can’t think of two people I’d rather be in a foxhole with than the two of you,” Hochul told Pallotta and Weingarten. After decades of lost investments in public education, topped off by the COVID-19 pandemic, New York has righted the ship with a 7.2 percent increase in school funding. “We got that done,” Hochul said, promising to continue her support for public education.

As to the midterm elections this coming Tuesday, Nov. 8, Hochul warned: “Complacency is the greatest enemy.”

She observed that her own race is tighter than it should be, and that Democrats—the only party at this point that believes in public services—never should have lost the governorships in states like Massachusetts and Virginia.

“We cannot turn over our state government to someone who wants to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires,” Hochul said. “We have to build a firewall, my friends.”

Pointing to the big jump in school funding after Hochul became governor, Pallotta urged New Yorkers to vote for her. “We have worked so hard for that throughout the years,” he said, “and she brought it.”

A stark contrast

Weingarten noted that the AFT has endorsed Republican candidates in the past and would do so again—but they must be pro-democracy, pro-public services and pro-worker. “Many of you remember,” she said. “We actually endorsed George Pataki,” a Republican governor of New York from 1995 to 2006. “But the Republican Party has left democracy. We will not have economic justice or economic security unless we have democracy.”

Instead, here is what Republicans are promising today: higher prescription drug prices, higher healthcare premiums, cuts in Medicare and Social Security, canceled student loan forgiveness, and a bigger budget deficit from cutting taxes for the rich. The GOP is blaming President Joe Biden for inflation, but in just one example of corporate price-gouging, the oil company Shell doubled its third-quarter profits from $4 billion to $9 billion. 

Weingarten has been riding on the AFT Votes tour bus since Oct. 19, with Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus joining her at stops in the 10 states they’ve visited, and there are three more stops to go: Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. The officers also have made excursions to other key states like Florida, New Mexico and Nevada.

What they’ve seen in all these places, Weingarten said, is our members’ quiet determination to make things better for kids and their communities. People want prices to go down, she said, but they also understand who’s trying to help and who’s not.

She also wants everyone to remember that early voting is a better predictor than polls are, and those numbers are encouraging. At this point in 2018, during the last midterm elections, Republicans held a 300,000 national vote lead in early voting. Today, Democrats lead by 2.6 million. 

Photo of AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus with members  in Ohio
AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus equips Cincinnati voters with T-shirts that leave no doubt: AFT Votes. Photo credit: Alexandra Palombo

Knocking on doors

AFT Michigan President David Hecker introduced the night’s other special guest, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan. “His values are our values,” Hecker said. “He truly cares about issues and the people they impact.”

The senator recalled many battles he and AFT Michigan have fought together over the years, with AFT members getting out and knocking on doors. He said it was great to see Weingarten in Michigan last weekend with former President Barack Obama: “He certainly lit up the crowd.”

Peters said he believes we can hold on and pick up a seat or two in the Senate. Republicans do have more money, but with all hands on deck, “we can’t outspend them but we don’t need to,” he said.

Among the states Democrats have to hold are Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, and we have some great pickup opportunities, including Pennsylvania.

During the question-and-answer period, Weingarten fielded questions from Arlease Williams from the Support Personnel Association of Lee County in Fort Myers, Fla.; Connie Smith from the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals; Adam McCormick from the Scranton (Pa.) Federation of Teachers; Trey Pereyra from the Los Alamos (N.M.) Federation of School Employees; and New York retiree Dawn Sherwood.

In a democracy, Weingarten said, voting is our most sacred right. It needs to be broad-based, and every vote needs to be counted. In these next few days, everything is on the ballot: Our freedoms, including reproductive rights. Economic security. Healthcare. “All of this is on the ballot,” she said. “We need people who are actually going to try to solve the problems of working families.”

To prepare yourself, your family and your fellow union members to vote, visit and Mobilize.Us/AFT. On Election Day, Nov. 8, if a poll worker tells you you’re not registered or at the wrong place, you can request a provisional ballot. If you see voter obstruction or intimidation, call the voter protection hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE.

[Annette Licitra]