Tennessee Education Association (TEA) union lobbyist Jim Wrye is a hail fellow, well met. But Republicans should be wary of the back-slapping, grinning union lobbyist — very wary.
Wrye came to Tennessee straight from the Alabama Education Association (AEA) where he oversaw a political operation that dumped huge sums of money into Alabama state legislative races, almost all of which went to Democrats or to GOP primary races where the AEA had recruited RINO candidates to knock off conservative Republicans. In this week’s Alabama primary elections, the AEA continued the Wrye legacy and spent $7 million in Republican primaries, much of it laundered through other organizations so as not to draw attention to the union.
The ads, which were delivered to voters via television, direct mail, radio, the Internet and over the phone, were designed to drown Republican incumbents with wave after wave of attacks. Many of them were paid for directly by the Alabama Education Association (AEA), others were funded by a couple of groups widely believed to be fronts for the AEA created to hide their involvement from voters.
In all, the AEA spent roughly $7 million this primary season. $7 million worth of teachers’ dues was spent with the sole purpose of eroding the current Republican supermajority.
That the AEA is continuing the anti-conservative Republican stratagems recently overseen by Wrye should come as no surprise. Just before his AEA job, Wrye was the chief honcho for the Alabama Democratic Party, where his only job was to defeat Republicans.
And now he is in Tennessee, working for the TEA.
We are already seeing similarities of Wrye’s AEA strategy at work within the TEA. Wrye hired the first-ever Republican lobbyist last session to work for the TEA, one who has strong ties to House Education Chairman Harry Brooks and other establishment Republicans. And the new executive director of the TEA, Carolyn Crowder, is a fresh transplant from Colorado, where she was a key teacher’s union operative in the referendum attempt to raise Colorado taxes by nearly $1 billion to pay for “education.” The resolution lost big and Crowder was sent packing. She wound up in Tennessee with Wrye.
The TEA has been hard-hit in recent years by a massive loss in membership. After the GOP-led legislature effectively eliminated collective bargaining, many educators who were moderate to conservative teachers were thrilled to finally be free of their union and voted with their feet. Some estimates run as high as 18,000 members (out of 54,000+) leaving the TEA in the last couple of years..
While the AEA Alabama strategy was to knock off Republican legislative leaders, here the strategy is more likely to focus on conservative Republicans. The TEA obviously prefers certain GOP leaders to be more “pliable” (like Rep. Harry Brooks and House Finance chair Charles Sargent). In its desperation to remain politically relevant in Tennessee, the TEA is trying to defeat conservatives, continuing to funnel campaign cash to Democrats and hiring GOP lobbyists as fig leaves — all of which appears to look like Jim Wrye from Alabama.
So be forewarned and forearmed, Republicans, especially you conservative legislators. That easy grin has sharp teeth and the backslapping is likely to turn into backstabbing when it comes to Republican candidates.