Shape the debate, or chase it

Are we shaping the debate or chasing it? That's the question we need to ask ourselves on every issue that matters to our members and the communities we serve.

And it's a key question our executive council asked when we debated whether to endorse a candidate in the presidential primary.

The consensus we came to—nearly unanimously—was that if we want to shape the debate, we need to endorse now.

The debate is already taking shape. And when the three leading Democratic candidates were interviewed by our members and elected leaders, it was clear that Hillary Clinton's vision and leadership stood out from the crowd, especially on the issues that matter most to our members.

A product of public schools herself, Clinton believes in the promise of public education. Her grasp of the complexity of the debate was sharp and clear—and she spoke most directly to the challenges educators, public employees, and nurses and other healthcare workers face today, from the testing fixation to massive budget cuts to a lack of respect on the job.

She's made it clear that her support for workers starts with their economic well-being. As she said in a recent speech: "If we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers."

One thing I love about our union is the diversity of opinion and the willingness to push back. Since the endorsement, we've heard from many of you. Many have spoken in favor of the endorsement, and some have spoken against it.

Some members believe we didn't do enough to seek every member's opinion—and some have used that as a reason to call for us to rescind the endorsement.

Ironically, between February and July, we reached out to more members than in any endorsement process in our history, conducting phone surveys and scientific polling, using email and social media to invite participation on our You Decide website, and engaging directly during telephone town halls and in-person events.

Both Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley are courageous leaders with vision and experience. But Hillary Clinton won our endorsement. Why?

First, we endorsed Hillary because of her clear and proven grasp of the issues, and her long history of standing shoulder to shoulder with workers.

Second, we picked her because of her support among our members. As we've laid out, from scientific polling to automated surveys, online sign-ups and in-person events, we've seen consistently that our members choose Hillary by 3-1 margins. And as we saw during TEACH 2015—when the endorsement announcement received a standing ovation from nearly the entire crowd of more than 2,000 educators—our members are fired up.

Finally, Hillary's leadership experience makes her the best candidate to win—not just the nomination, but the presidency.

And that's no small thing. We're up against historic opposition. In the wake of Citizens United, billionaires are buying candidates on the right, from the presidential contenders on down, and they're not waiting to get started.

And make no mistake—their goal is to sell off our schools, squeeze every last dime out of patients, defund higher education, privatize public services and break every union that helps workers build power in the workplace.

Scott Walker, just hours after announcing his candidacy, called the minimum wage "lame." Jeb Bush said that hardworking Americans need to "work longer hours." Bobby Jindal counts among his top achievements the total privatization of New Orleans' public schools.

This is the Republican field for president (or at least one-fifth of it). Each Republican candidate wants to preserve today's rigged, trickle-down economy. Each supports privatizing our public schools, services and hospitals. And each Republican candidate is well-funded, by the same corporate backers who are hell-bent on eviscerating unions and wiping out worker voice on the job.

Educators know that our kids, families and communities can't risk a Walker presidency or a Bush presidency or a Jindal presidency. And that's why our leaders decided to get in the mix early: so our union can shape the debate, not chase it.

Some have said that we gave up our opportunity to shape the debate by endorsing, but I couldn't disagree more.

By engaging now, we can help Hillary craft an even more powerful vision, and build the campaign that's necessary to win the election. These days we need both a strong outside game, and a seat and a voice at the table.

I've personally known Hillary Clinton for years, as have many of our leaders. We know what she's like as a first lady, as a senator and as secretary of state. We know what it's like to sit at a table with her and work through policy ideas. She won't just give us a seat at the table, she'll give us a voice at the table. She's already made it clear that she understands core issues for our members—saying teachers shouldn't be the scapegoats for society's problems, outlining clear policies for healthcare workers and supporting public services.

And it's important to endorse now so we can start building. During our endorsement debate, we heard from the leaders of nearly every battleground state, and they all said the same thing: "It's not too early. I need all the time I can get to build a campaign."

Donald Trump can write a check and buy a ground game today. The Koch brothers will throw nearly a billion dollars behind the GOP nominee, and dozens of other billionaires have their checkbooks ready.

We don't have that luxury. But if we organize ourselves now, engage our communities and members, and work with Hillary Clinton to shape the way our issues are discussed, we can move the conversation forward.

Over the coming months, we'll be working to make sure we're having the debate on our terms. We'll help shape the way people talk about the issues that matter to our members and communities. And when it's time to get out the vote in 2016, we'll be prepared for the real fight.