Eye on Education

Are Teacher-Lawmakers Here to Stay?

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Tom Schmida just retired from 40 years in the classroom. He is one of 12 teachers running for the statehouse this year.

This year a dozen teachers decided to run for office. Most were inspired by last year’s battle over Senate Bill 5 – the effort to curb public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

But does this signal the influx of a new group of candidates for the long-haul? Will teachers join lawyers and political scientists as Election Day regulars?

That depends, says Stephen Brooks, a political scientist with the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron.

Brooks says it’s not uncommon for a certain group of people to be energized enough by a single issue to run for office.

“Certainly the religious right has moved from a sense of ‘politics should be separated from religion’ to ‘we need to be in the mix,” Brooks says. “The tea party movement is another example of a number of candidates who had never even thought about running for office becoming politically motivated by what was going on.”

The teachers are largely motivated by threats to public employee unions.

“I think most of them decided to run after they saw what happened with the anti-collective bargaining law coming out,” says Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “They just decided it was time to kind of take things into their own hands and have a voice in these decisions and wanted to step up and be a part of the process instead of standing at the doors being locked out.”

Brooks says as long as the collective bargaining rights of teachers are threatened, they’re likely to stay politically motivated. And there have been rumors that elements of S.B. 5 may re-emerge in the coming legislative sessions. But once that issue settles down, teachers may lose their oomph.

It doesn’t help that it can be tough to get elected the first time around.

“In politics, especially down-ballot, name recognition is very important. So the likelihood of winning the first time out is diminished. But if you keep trying and you do it over and over again and your name begins to be recognized, then you win,” Brooks says. “But I’m not sure the motivation for these folks will stay.”

This year there may be an unusually high number of teachers running for office. But don’t forget – it’s not uncommon to have several former teachers in the Ohio Legislature on both sides of the aisle. For example, Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio and Republican Rep. Randy Gardner both list teaching on their resumes.


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