New Jersey’s teacher union leaders are unhappy with Senate President Steve Sweeney. And so they have endorsed and are funding a campaign for his challenger, who happens to be a Trump-supporting Republican named Fran Grenier who thinks that N.J.’s progressive school funding formula — one that NJEA ardently supports — should be abolished. “Why does one community get a break over another?” says Grenier, in a clear nod to Governor Christie’s absurd flat funding proposal.
Yet he’s NJEA’s guy.
In fact, I can’t access Politico without clicking through an anti-Sweeney ad purchased by NJEA as part of its extensive marketing campaign. The Observer reports,
State campaign finance records show that as of early May, the union’s super PAC, Garden State Forward, had spent $317,800 on digital ads and mailers lambasting Sweeney as a pay-to-play Democrat in bed with Gov. Chris Christie.
The group then reported spending an additional $310,000 statewide two weeks later, which likely included even more anti-Sweeney buys since no other political campaign has surfaced from the PAC.
So why is Sweeney such a despised figure within NJEA’s central office? What sins has he committed to earn their ire? He:
- Shepherded through the bipartisan 2011 health benefits and pension premium contributions reform bill;
- Did the math and realized that the teachers’ portion of the pension system is still under water and, thus, has sensibly supported other reforms;
- Acted in a fiscally responsible manner by shutting down an amendment that would force the state to do the impossible and make full pension payments;
- Refused to engage in the charade that N.J. can possibly fund the school aid formula without the baby step of eliminating the archaic line item of “Adjustment Aid.”
There’s little information available about Grenier. He is chair of the Salem County Republican Party, used to be a Woodstown councilman, and works for PSEG Nuclear LLC. NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller told Grenier that he earned NJEA’s money and endorsement through his “your positions, your record and your integrity.” His opposition to an equitable school funding formula? No problem. His promise to “fully fund” current teacher retirement compensation by throwing new teachers under the bus? No problem.
Some might see this as a bold move on the part of representatives of beleaguered public workers. Others might see this as petty payback for Sweeney’s propensity for speaking truth to stupid. I side with the latter.