Union Campaign Casts City Pre-K Plan as GOP-Friendly and Male-Dominated

After a state Court of Appeals ruling yesterday, it’s all but certain that November voters will have to choose between two pre-K measures: one backed by the city and one by two unions. Rather than fight City Hall, the unions wanted the court to allow voters to choose both measures, but the appellate judges stood by a lower court’s ruling in saying no. Heather Weiner, spokesperson for the union-backed measure, says no further appeal is currently planned.

So the fight is on. And to make matters even more confusing, the measures have almost identical names. The plan promoted by SEIU 925 and the American Federation of Teachers of Washington is known as Proposition 1A (although the ballot will mention its original name, Initiative 107). The city plan is called Proposition 1B.

Having lost in court, the union campaign is offering one pointed way to differentiate between the two. It claims that an internal poll shows that Democrats are more likely to favor the union measure —a sweeping plan that would cover all preschool kids, limit costs, give teachers a fast track to a $15-an-hour wage and likely give the unions a big role in establishing new teacher standards. Republicans, according to the poll, tend to prefer the more limited city plan, which sets up a pilot for just 2,000 preschoolers, requires teachers to get college degrees, emphasizes “research based strategies” and lays out a property tax to pay for it all. (The union measure, in contrast, comes attached with no funding.)

The partisan split ran seven percentage points, according to the poll funded by the union campaign and conducted by the national firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. Why would this be? Prop 1A spokesperson Heather Weiner says she doesn’t know, but suggests it might have something to do with the “anti-union messages” espoused by the city campaign. She says pollsters used messages coming out of both campaigns to create a “simulated debate” for 800 likely voters, who were then asked for their opinion.

Significantly, the overall tally came out much more positively for the union measure after this debate than before. During initial questioning. participants favored Prop 1A by six points, whereas the debate gave the measure a 14-point lead, according to the results released.

Weiner won’t say, though, exactly what rhetoric the pollsters used in their pretend-debate, so it’s hard to know how this relates to the real-life campaigns.

“I’m very skeptical of the results,” says Sandeep Kaushik, spokesperson for Prop 1B, adding that the opposing campaign has released only “selective information” about its poll. He declines to release the city’s internal polling results, but says they point to “a very different view of where things stand.”

Kaushik also takes issue with what he says is an attempt to paint the city’s plan as “conservative.” He notes that the King County Labor Council—a union group itself and far from a conservative organization-- recently endorsed Prop 1B over the union plan.

But the conservative tag is a potent and damaging one in Seattle, and Prop 1A’s backers may continue to push it. In fact, Weiner, speaking to SW today, goes on to observe a gender split that plays into that notion. Almost all of the prominent spokespeople for the city plan—including Kaushik, the mayor and City Councilmember Tim Burgess-are men, she says, whereas “our campaign side is almost all women.” She ticks off herself, political consultant Lisa MacLean, local AFT president Karen Strickland and SEIU 925 president Karen Hart.

The men, Weiner continues, “are trying to do the right thing” but are putting forward a “very top down, academic and highly-controlled” experiment.

Kaushik contests this notion—several female city council members are supporting the city plan, for one thing--and portrays the characterization as an attack by a losing campaign promoting vastly expensive but unfunded mandates.

At least now we know we know what the campaigns are going to look like in the months ahead.

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