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Bush's Education Secretary Calls Teachers Union 'Terrorist Organization'
Published on Monday, February 23, 2004 by the Associated Press
Bush's Education Secretary Calls Teachers Union 'Terrorist Organization'
by Robert Tanner
 

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation's largest teachers union a "terrorist organization" during a private White House meeting with governors on Monday.

Democratic and Republican governors confirmed Paige's remarks about the National Education Association.

"These were the words, 'The NEA is a terrorist organization,'" said Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin.

"He was making a joke, probably not a very good one," said Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. "Of course he immediately divorced the NEA from ordinary teachers, who he said he supports."

"I don't think the NEA is a terrorist organization," said Rendell, who has butted heads with the group as well. "They're not a terrorist organization any more than the National Business Organization is a terrorist organization.

Neither the Education Department nor NEA had an immediate comment on Paige's comments. Both indicated that statements were forthcoming.

Education has been a top issue for governors, who have sought more flexibility from the administration on President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law, which seeks to improve school performance in part by allowing parents to move their children from poorly performing schools.

Democrats have said Bush has failed to fully fund the law, giving the states greater burdens but not the resources to handle them.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, said Paige's remarks startled the governors, who met for nearly two hours with Bush and several Cabinet officials.

"He is, I guess, very concerned about anybody that questions what the president is doing," Holden said.

"He was implying that the NEA has not been one of the organizations that has been working with the administration to try to solve 'No Child Left Behind,'" he said.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, said of Paige's comments: "Somebody asked him about the NEA's role and he offered his perspective on it."

Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, a Democrat, said the comments were made in the context of "we can't be supportive of the status quo and they're the status quo. But whatever the context, it is inappropriate - I know he wasn't calling teachers terrorists - but to ever suggest that the organization they belong to was a terrorist organization is uncalled for."

When Bush welcomed the governors at the State Dining Room during brief public comments, he told them that rising political tensions of an election year won't stop him from working closely with them.

"I fully understand it's going to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue," Bush said. "But surely we can shuffle that aside sometimes and focus on our people."

"We'll continue to work hard to help you. Because by helping our governors, we really help our people," he said.

Bush spent much of the first half of his opening comments on foreign policy and the war on terrorism, defending his decision to go war in Iraq and thanking the governors for their work on homeland security.

"The most important job of anyone in public office is to protect the people of our country," he said.

Bush also defended his domestic policies, telling the governors that he strongly believed in his education law and that the tax cuts he championed were helping spur the economy.

The governors are in Washington for four days of discussions at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, though the usual effort to build consensus was marked by partisan politics that Democrats said couldn't be avoided.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said he planned to confront Bush on White House predictions of 2.6 million new jobs this year. Bush spokesmen already have backed off those numbers.

"If the president's not going to fight for jobs, governors will, Democratic governors will," Vilsack said. "We're on the front line of that fight every day, and we see the consequences of having lost three million jobs."

Copyright 2004 Associated Press

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