Christie rails against teachers

Gov.+Chris+Christie+speaks+to+supporters+in+American+Legion+Walter+Johnson+Post+721+on+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+11%2C+2015+in+Coralville%2C+IA.+Christie+is+one+of+15+candidates+hoping+to+represent+the+GOP+in+the+upcoming+election.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FJoshua+Housing%29

Joshua Housing

Gov. Chris Christie speaks to supporters in American Legion Walter Johnson Post 721 on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 in Coralville, IA. Christie is one of 15 candidates hoping to represent the GOP in the upcoming election. (The Daily Iowan/Joshua Housing)

By Quentin Misiag

[email protected]

CORALVILLE — Chris Christie accelerated his tense relationship with national teachers’ unions Tuesday, saying the influential organizing groups are responsible for bankrupting U.S. states.

“They are the largest propaganda machine currently operating in this country,” the Republican presidential candidate said, referencing the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

They are the two largest teachers’ unions in the country and hold strong lobbying power at the state and federal level.

Since the start of his gubernatorial tenure in Jan. 2010, the brash New Jersey governor has tangled with public employee unions. On more than one occasion, he has railed against union pension and health-care benefits.

But it was here, inside Coralville’s American Legion Hall, 901 2nd St., that Christie localized his assault on teachers in Iowa for the first time. On two occasions, he took two area teachers to task.

“They are always for Democrats,” Christie said of the unions, before receiving pushback from Kelly McMahon, a first-grade teacher from Cedar Rapids, who asked the candidate what he would do about accountability in education, if elected.

“To hear him not address accountability as well as bash myself and fellow colleagues, did not make me very happy,” said McMahon, a more than 10-year member of the NEA, in an interview after Christie’s “Telling it like it is” rally.

As a public school teacher in Milwaukee, McMahon gained political street cred for whipping up support for the union and for embarking on a campaign to hold charter schools accountable.

Iowans in attendance warned that Christie could find himself in hot water if he steps in the path of state education backers, who had bipartisan support from Iowa legislators in the 2014 state legislature.

“He did not earn my vote tonight,” McMahon said firmly.

Jessica Bovey, 41, who teaches special education courses at Iowa City High School, had similar beliefs about Christie’s anti-union stances.

“He’s pretty grossly unfamiliar with issues teachers are struggling with beyond our pay,” she said. “None of the issues he talked about tonight even apply to Iowa.”

In July, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed a bill that had been approved by the Legislature under which Iowa schools would have received $55.7 million in additional funding for K-12 programming.

At the time, Branstad said he vetoed the bill over concerns that it was cause “uncertainty” for schools.

But Branstad — a close friend and ally of Christie’s — has repeatedly expressed frustration that lawmakers did not approve a second year of school funding.

In his appearance, Christie cast himself as a staunch labor-fighter, repeatedly saying he has experience with “one of the most aggressive teacher unions in the country” as a New Jersey politico.

The NEA’s 3 million members work from pre-school to university graduate programs in more than 14,000 cities, according to the group.

According to the teachers’ federation, more than 3,000 cities are represented by the group’s approximately 1.6 million members.

At one point, Christie said the teacher groups are nothing more than a “political slush fund to reward your friends and punish your enemies.”

Before turning his aim at charter schools, Christie asked the crowd of some 80 people: “If you showed up over two years, late 100 times, would you still have your job or wouldn’t you?”

Before wrapping up his town hall event, Christie turned back to McMahon, almost to heal any wounds he may have created with his remarks.

In a calmer tone and with a smile, Christie said: “When we have big battles and arguments and education, I’m going to remember you.”

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