The New Jersey Education Association’s attempt to get revenge on Senate President Steve Sweeney has left the state’s largest teachers’ union politically damaged, according to experts.
In an interview with Politico, Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said the leadership of the NJEA is “out of touch” with its membership and from now on he will consult with the American Federation of Teachers before going to the NJEA.
The NJEA backed Sweeney’s opponent in the 3rd District race, Republican Fran Grenier, after saying Sweeney broke a promise to lobby for a ballot question that would guarantee teachers’ pensions be funded by the state.
According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the NJEA had spent more than $4.5 million attacking Sweeney as of late October and supporting Grenier. That angered Democrats throughout the state, because Grenier is described as a “Trump Republican” and supported Donald Trump’s candidacy on his way to the White House last year.
Democratic officials and political experts said Democrats could have picked up even more seats throughout the state in last week’s elections had the NJEA not spent so much money on one race, especially considering Sweeney cruised to an easy victory over Grenier.
“The NJEA comes out of this greatly diminished,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “I still haven’t heard an argument as to why spending all that money (on one race) was a good idea.”
Overall spending on the 3rd District race jumped above $16 million by late October, shattering records in New Jersey.
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Mike Suleiman said in the months leading up to the campaign that he did not believe the NJEA spending millions on the Sweeney race was a good use of the union’s resources.
He also took issue with the fact the NJEA endorsed Republican Chris Brown over Democrat Colin Bell for state Senate in the 2nd District.
Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, told Politico the NJEA’s spending against Sweeney was a “fool’s errand.”
The NJEA said although Grenier did not win, his campaign “energized” NJEA members across the state.
“While NJEA-endorsed candidate Fran Grenier fell short in his race against incumbent Senate President Steve Sweeney, his insurgent campaign electrified New Jersey politics and energized NJEA members, who remain determined to endorse and campaign for pro-public education candidates regardless of party affiliation,” the union said in a statement on election night.
NJEA President Marie Blistan wrote in a statement on election night that the union will not back down when it feels its values are threatened.
“By standing with our allies in the Legislature, we have maintained a strong foundation for the next legislative session,” Blistan wrote. “And by taking on difficult fights that forced us to stand firm for what we believe in, we showed New Jersey that we will not back down when our values are at stake.”