Does KNEA endorse candidates for office?
Some people say we do, but we actually don’t. We “recommend” candidates. Sounds like we’re splitting hairs, but we think the difference is important. “Endorsement” would imply that we are telling you who to vote for. We “recommend” candidates for those of you who vote as if public education was your #1 issue. Most reporters and candidates use the word “endorsement” because that’s what they are used to. You’ll notice KNEA always says “recommended.”
Who makes these recommendations?
KNEA has a member-driven recommendation process. The Kansas NEA PAC Committee consists of 44 KNEA members – the KNEA president and vice president who serve as chair and vice chair of KPAC, one KNEA member from each of the 40 state Senate districts, one member of KNEA-Retired, and one member of Student KNEA. The members of KPAC, after interviewing candidates, bring recommendations to the full committee.
How does the recommendation process work?
When candidates file for office, the KNEA Political Action staff sends those candidates a questionnaire and an invitation to participate in our screening and recommendation process. The only exception to this is in the case of an incumbent legislator with a stellar pro-public education voting record who files for re-election. These “friendly incumbents” are automatically recommended for re-election because they have proven their commitment to public schools and educators.
When questionnaires are received, the KPAC member from that legislator’s district arranges for a face-to-face interview (via Zoom this year). The candidates are interviewed by a team of KNEA members from the district. This team is usually four to six KNEA members. After interviewing the candidates, the team makes a recommendation that must be adopted by the full KPAC committee.
Then the full KPAC committee sends the list of recommended candidates to the KNEA Board of Directors which must approve the candidate recommendations.
What if a candidate does not fill out a questionnaire or participate in an interview?
In order to be recommended, a candidate must complete the questionnaire and participate in an interview. There are no exceptions. If you want our recommendation, you will meet with us.
Do most candidates participate?
Our experience is that most Democrats agree to participate. There was a time when few Republicans would participate but that changed once the Republican Party divided into two camps – Moderate or “traditional” Republicans and Conservative Republicans. Today nearly all Moderate Republicans willingly participate while Conservative Republicans seldom do.
This all sounds fine, but when I look at the recommended candidate list for the 2020 general election, there are very few Republicans. Is KNEA really a Democratic organization?
If you were to look at our recommended candidate lists over a number of election cycles you will see that we are definitely NOT a “Democratic organization.” We recommend many Republicans in the primary election and if those Republicans win their primary, they are recommended in the general election. This year, many of our Republican recommended candidates did not advance past the primary stage. Compare our lists of recommended candidates to the lists from any other large organization that endorses or recommends candidates – Kansans for Life, the National Rifle Association, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau, or the Kansas Livestock Association – and you will come to the conclusion that we are the only non-partisan organization. Finding a Democrat on their lists is like securing the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar!
We will admit the 2020 general election list is overwhelmingly Democratic. KNEA is recommending candidates in 82 of the 125 House seats and only seven of those candidates are Republicans. In the Senate, KNEA has recommended candidates in 30 of the 40 seats and only three are Republicans.
The explanation for this is simple. Many of the Republicans we recommended in the primary election were defeated. Conservatives, who refused to talk to our local KPAC team, advanced to the general election.
But I saw on Facebook that KNEA is not recommending “pro-life” candidates. What about that?
KNEA does not ask candidates about their positions on reproductive rights such as abortion. We don’t ask about firearms (except keeping schools safe from gun violence). We ask questions that cover four broad areas: 1) school finance, 2) educator rights, 3) enhancing opportunity for all Kansans, and 4) tax policies.
We want to know where candidates stand on keeping the promises made under the Gannon school finance settlement, funding special education and professional development, and future inflationary increases in school funding. We want to know that they will oppose efforts to shift public funding to private schools. We want to know that candidates support the professional negotiations act and due process protections. We want to know that candidates want to make higher education affordable, provide a social service safety net for those in need, make affordable health care available for every Kansan. We want to know if they will support a balanced tax policy that funds quality schools, roads, public safety, and social service programs and is fair to both individuals and businesses – because these priorities impact student opportunity and achievement.
We seek a legislature that will strive to make Kansas the best place to live, work, and raise a family. It’s as simple as that. Our candidate recommendations are intended to move us in that direction.