Voters flock to progressive issue-based contests
Not everyone was “seeing red” in the days following the 2014 vote. In instances where campaigns focused on strong, well-supported public education, laws guaranteeing livable wages, and other basic concerns, progressive candidates frequently won—and often won big.
Pennsylvania is a case in point. The AFT’s Pennsylvania affiliates mounted a successful across-the-board effort behind Tom Wolf, who won a landslide victory over Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in one of 2014’s most closely watched gubernatorial races. Rallies, phone banking, a get-out-the-vote blitz and extensive media helped ensure that education remained key to the contest.
AFT locals made voters aware that Corbett had axed more than $1 billion in public education funding during his stint in office, and that he had pushed for cuts of as much as 40 percent to teachers’ and public workers’ retirement security—all while championing reckless corporate tax giveaways. During Corbett’s tenure, tuition at the state’s four-year public colleges and universities soared to become among the nation’s most expensive, and graduating students’ average debt load rose to become the nation’s third-highest.
Against this disturbing landscape, Wolf campaigned hard to make Pennsylvania a full partner in education—a message that helped propel the Democrat to a double-digit victory, one of the most decisive wins of 2014.
“AFTPA members have been incredibly committed during the campaign, registering new voters, making tens of thousands of phone calls, knocking on doors and distributing literature to help Tom Wolf win,” said AFT Pennsylvania President Ted Kirsch, who is an AFT vice president, following the win. “As a result, we have a governor who has promised to make public education a top priority, [and] we are confident that Tom Wolf will give Pennsylvania a fresh start.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten, who was in York, Pa., on election night to help Pennsylvanians celebrate the win, said that Wolf’s victory is a prime example of how strong results followed whenever “public education was at the forefront.” Many down-ballot contests bore out that point as well.
California solidified its standing as a progressive bulwark in the 2014 elections: Every single statewide office was won by a candidate endorsed by the AFT-affiliated California Federation of Teachers. Some of these contests had national implications as well. In one, voters awarded a decisive victory to incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, rather than gambling the future of their schools on a billionaire-backed, anti-union challenge from Marshall Tuck.
“We can now expect continued attention paid by the superintendent’s office to the real issues facing public education, rather than wasting time fighting distracting and destructive ideological battles,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt, who is also an AFT vice president.
AFT affiliates across the state contributed to the win. One standout effort came from the Los Angeles Community College District, where AFT members ran joint statewide phone banks that helped get out the vote for Torlakson.
Outcomes like those in California and Pennsylvania, Weingarten said, illustrate not only that progressive candidates can win big but also that, for voters, the central question driving their vote has not changed much, despite the talk of sea-change elections. “What is the path to opportunity for my family and especially my kids?” remains their focus, the AFT president said.