Unsweet TEA Cochran rebuffs teachers' union endorsement

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com
State Rep. Jerome Cochran rebuffed an endorsement from the Tennessee Education Association after the union's parent organization co-sponsored a pro-abortion rights event in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
Cochran, R-Elizabethton, said his decision came regarding the National Education Association's sponsorship of the March for Women's Lives rally held April 25.
"TEA's refusal to state whether they endorse the actions of the NEA's actions, I have informed TEA's officials that I will not meet with them or accept their endorsement if offered until they give me a clarification of their position," said Cochran, who represents the 4th District in the state House of Representatives.
The march was organized by groups including Planned Parenthood Federation, American Civil Liberties Union, and Pro-Choice America. Cochran said the NEA had not sponsored a rally for citizens opposing abortion and had never opened their headquarters up for anti-abortion rallies held in previous years.
"I know Rep. Cochran is a very principled person but I think he's making a mountain out of a mole hill on this issue," said Jerry Winters, director of government relations for TEA in Nashville. "He shouldn't try to paint a negative picture of a professional organization like NEA.
"It was a decision made in Washington, not Nashville, or Elizabethton."
Winters said NEA put no financial support into the march. During the April 25 march, NEA opened their Washington office building to be used for a break station for march participants.
Winters also disputed the idea that the teachers' union endorsed Democrats and steered clear of the GOP. He said TEA has endorsed Upstate Republican lawmakers Steve Godsey, R-Blountville, Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, David Davis, R-Jonesborough, and Robert Patton, R-Johnson City. The teachers' union has also endorsed Republican Sens. Mike Williams of Maynardville and William Claybough of Knoxville.
"We've endorsed just about every Republican up there," he said.
NEA policy supports family planning including "the rights to reproductive freedom." Winters maintained the policy did not amount to an endorsement of abortion, but a position of supporting a woman's rights to decisions that affect her. He also said women's issues such as abortion arose since approximately 80 percent of NEA members are women.
"Obviously, issues of concerns to women are going to come out in our policies," said Winters.
Cochran noted NEA policies regarding abortion, school vouchers and gay and lesbian rights had alienated many teachers in Carter County and around the country.
"It tells me (NEA) are out of the mainstream of thinking for most Tennesseans," he said.
The 103rd General Assembly adopted, and Gov. Phil Bredesen signed, an appropriation of $183 million new dollars for K-12 education. Cochran voted for the bill that included a 2 percent salary increase for teachers plus a 2 percent pay bonus totaling $76 million. An additional $34 million is appropriated for teacher salary equity dispersed through the state's poorest counties.
"I will continue to support Carter County teachers no matter what positions the TEA takes," Cochran said. "I have supported teacher equalization pay for Carter County teachers because it was something they deserved."
A graduate of Happy Valley High School, Cochran's daughter is a student in the Carter County school system. Cochran is seeking the Republican nomination in the Aug. 5 state primary. He is being challenged by John Holsclaw.