With a huge number of vacancies in State House and Senate seats in 2018, many due to retirements and others due to Members accepting political appointments or seeking other offices, there will be a historic number of contested seats in the August, 2018 Republican primary election. Republicans currently enjoy supermajorities in both the House and Senate, so the primary elections are tantamount to winning the seat in many cases.
In recent years the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has recognized the political realities in the state and started moving from previously supporting only Democrats in state legislative races to putting increasingly significant resources into both the Republican caucuses and individual campaigns. However, a new Tennessee Star poll reveals that accepting TEA money and support may come at a high cost for candidates in Republican primaries.
The Tennessee Star Poll was conducted by Triton Polling December 12-18, 2017 and included 1000 likely GOP Primary voters from across the state. Respondents were asked:
The Tennessee Education Association and National Education Association are unions that use Tennessee teachers’ dues to oppose the Second Amendment, support Planned Parenthood, and attempt to elect political candidates like Hillary Clinton. Would you be more likely or less likely to support a Republican candidate for the state house or senate who accepts money from these organizations?
Of those polled, 6.3% indicated that the TEA/NEA support would make them “more likely” to support a Republican candidate; 76.3% would be “less likely” to support such a candidate; and 17.3% were “not sure or didn’t know.” With such high opposition to TEA money and influence among likely GOP primary voters, Republican legislative candidates who have accepted financial support from TEA in the past can certainly expect their opponents to use that information in campaign attack ads in 2018.
“The attack ads almost write themselves,” said Republican conservative political strategist Steve Gill. “Tying an opponent not just to the teachers’ union but to the issues that TEA supports with their dues money and which are so abhorrent to Tennessee teachers and voters is a double hit. And, if the TEA tries to defend the GOP candidates that they have financially supported it just makes the case that he or she is in the pocket of the liberal TEA even stronger.”
“In this environment, candidates need to think twice before accepting any money or support from the TEA, and if they have done so in the past they need to find ways to distance themselves quickly and definitively if they want to survive a contested primary,” Gill added.
While the TEA has previously denied that any of the teachers’ union dues money supports liberal national political causes and candidates, like Hillary Clinton, campaign finance reports have revealed otherwise. With Donald Trump having carried 92 out of 95 Tennessee counties in the 2016 Presidential campaign, and with over 60% of the vote in his column, being tied in any way to Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be deadly to any Republican legislative campaign in 2018.
Uniserve representatives, the paid, political operatives of the TEA, have already been meeting with legislators and prospective candidates ahead of the 2018 legislative session to lay out their legislative agenda — including opposition to charter schools and vouchers. It is unclear whether they are employed by/paid by the TEA or the NEA. Few, if any, of the Uniserve regional organizers have registered as lobbyists. At least one of them, Marshall T. Green, is hosting a “Legislative Forum” at Colton’s Steakhouse in Dickson, Tennessee on Thursday, February 1, 2018 and legislators have been invited to attend though it is unclear whether the legislators will receive a free meal or be required to pay.