In August, six Republican presidential candidates appeared at a forum to discuss education reform in New Hampshire hosted by Campbell Brown. Brown, the former NBC news anchor and CNN host, has just launched a news website, The Seventy Four, dedicated to covering issues related to education reform. Brown was set to host a similar forum with Democrats in Iowa this month to be co-sponsored with the Des Moines Register, but Brown has a history of being critical of unions putting up roadblocks to education reform. Politico reports that Democratic candidates have been scared off of partocipating in the forum by the risk of losing union support:
“What happened here is very clear: The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told POLITICO. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind. … President [Barack] Obama certainly never cowered to the unions. Even if they disagree with the president’s reforms, you would think these candidates would at least have the courage to make the case.”
None of the campaigns would discuss the forum on the record. Union officials would not confirm that they exerted pressure on the candidates to skip it, but they are not fond of Brown or her advocacy against teacher tenure in public schools. In the past, they have portrayed her as a corporate-funded elitist doing the bidding of Republicans; Brown is a registered independent, but her husband, Dan Senor, is a former Bush administration official who served as a spokesman for the Iraq war.
When asked to comment on the forum, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a close ally of Hillary Clinton, issued a harsh statement about Brown.
“Campbell Brown is entitled to her opinion about public education, but the Democrats running for president — along with American voters — have a different vision,” Weingarten said.
While it's disappointing that Democratic candidates won't go on record to discuss education reform, such cowardice is also not surprising. Teachers unions are very influential in the Democratic party and have a track record of responding poorly to richly deserved criticism.