The Illinois Education Association (IEA) has always leaned more Republican than its Illinois Federation of Teachers counterpart, but the IEA's endorsement of one GOP candidate raised a few eyebrows this year.
Conservative state Representative Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) was endorsed by the IEA last month. The Illinois AFL-CIO assigns the Metro East legislator a rating of 36 percent so far this session. The Illinois Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, endorsed Kay's Democratic opponent, Cullen L. Cullen. The IEA is not an AFL-CIO union.
The Kay endorsement is not what you'd call an everyday occurrence. Yes, the IEA endorses a fair number of Republicans, but it's well-documented that Kay was on friendly terms with the Tea Party when he was first elected in 2010, and the IEA is not enamored with that bunch.
According to a story published by the fiscally hard-right Illinois Policy Institute, Kay attended one of its press conferences last year with a handful of other Republican legislators who "showed their support" for the group's budget legislation, including a proposal to move all current teachers and government workers into 401(k)-style pension plans. Kay, however, did not co-sponsor that plan, and it was never brought to the House floor for a vote. The IEA, of course, was and still is dead-set-against the Illinois Policy Institute's plan.
And according to a report in GOP Illinois USA, Kay and others "spoke very highly" of Representative Jeanne Ives, who is perhaps unrivaled in the General Assembly for her harsh criticisms of government-employee unions. Ives recently donated to Kay's campaign.
And speaking of money, Chicago radio-talk-show host Dan Proft, who's no friend of the teacher unions, told me that he and Kay have discussed whether Proft would contribute to Kay's campaign. Proft has a huge campaign fund, so it's possible that Kay might wind up receiving cash from both sides of the teacher-union debate.
Kay and Cullen, I'm told, had identical answers to questions posed by the union. Kay voted against the state-pension-reform bill, which the teachers appreciated because they fought so hard against the bill's passage. And, according to folks at the IEA, Kay went out of his way to obtain their endorsement this year after the union rejected him three elections in a row.
But there are a couple of other important angles here.
The IEA is understandably worried about what could happen if Bruce Rauner is elected governor. Rauner has howled about the evils of teachers' unions for years. The IEA will need allies in both parties to fend off Rauner's expected attacks on their collective-bargaining rights and tenure. A friendly voice in the House Republican caucus probably wouldn't hurt if Rauner is pushing those legislators to fall into lockstep.
Also, I'm told, the IEA rank and file has quite a few members who really don't care for House Speaker Michael Madigan - particularly Downstate but also in some parts of suburbia.
Madigan went after teachers' pensions a few years after he took tons of campaign money from Rauner's anti-union education-reform pals. Madigan used that cash to stave off a Republican onslaught and then led the charge on school reform.
Madigan, of course, has also been known to try to flip a House member whenever he deems it necessary. So a candidate beholden to Madigan might not always be considered trustworthy. Kay, on the other hand, could never be confused with being a Madigan ally, and also has an independent streak when it comes to his own party.
And there are those under the Statehouse dome who figure that Madigan, despite his anti-Rauner campaign rhetoric these days, might eventually decide to work with the Republican against the teachers' unions just like he did a few years ago. So why give Madigan another "duckling" such as Cullen when a Republican might turn out to be far more trustworthy?
In other words, the IEA's endorsement of Kay makes perfect sense - at least as far as anything makes sense at the Illinois Statehouse.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.