Teachers union endorses Hanabusa


POSTED: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Despite a history of not always being in agreement with each other, the union representing 13,500 public school teachers has backed state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa in the special election for Congress.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association chose Hanabusa over former congressman and fellow Democrat Ed Case, the only other candidate who interviewed for the endorsement. Republican Charles Djou declined to interview with the union, which has traditionally supported Democrats. They are seeking the seat formerly held by Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor.

Union President Wil Okabe praised Hanabusa's collaborative style.

“;We believe that Colleen has always had an open-door policy,”; Okabe said. “;There are differences in some of her views, but we feel that she's able to listen.”;

Hanabusa thanked the union and pledged to remain open to their ideas, particularly as the two differ over President Barack Obama's recently announced blueprint for reforming public education.

Okabe said the union did not have a chance to discuss the Obama plan with Hanabusa, but he echoed concerns voiced by some national education leaders.

“;One of the things that the president wants to do is to make it a competitive thing, like the Race to the Top, so that is a concern for us,”; Okabe said.

Hanabusa said she supports the fundamentals of the plan because it stresses improvement at the teacher-student level rather than the overall school level, but calls it premature to say she disagrees with the union's stance.

“;It's a discussion that's going to be ongoing,”; she said. “;And the important thing is they know they can have that discussion.”;

Although it is a strong show of support, the HSTA endorsement may also have some baggage attached to it as the impasse over resolving Furlough Fridays continues. Some parent groups have said there is plenty of blame to spread around — between the employer and the union — as students go without classes on furlough days.

The HSTA endorsement has more risks now than it would under normal circumstances, said University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner.

“;It could hurt if people react to that as saying she's just part of the problem with the furloughs and being with the unions on the wrong side on this one,”; he said. “;That said, I think I would take it rather than not take it, if I were her.”;

Djou said he expects to gain support from many teachers regardless of the endorsement, and he agrees the HSTA backing could be detrimental.

“;The responsibility and the blame for (Furlough Fridays) has got to be shared by HSTA as much as any other,”; Djou said.

Case said he also expects strong support from teachers, adding that he believes his advocacy of local education reforms, such as a decentralized school system and a move to an appointed Board of Education, contradict the “;stagnant political culture”; of the HSTA and Hanabusa.

“;Unfortunately, the Furlough Friday disaster, which my opponent led and continues to lead, reflects the consequences of continuing that culture and the reason why we need a better way forward not only nationally, but here at home,”; Case said in an e-mail.