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Teachers Endorse Crist and Meek

In a stunning thank you for a veto of teacher merit pay - and perhaps a bow to political reality - the state's largest teacher union on Saturday said that while it is backing Democratic U.S. candidate Kendrick Meek as expected, it also would be fine with no-party Charlie Crist and co-endorsed them.

Giving a dual endorsement isn't unheard of, but recommending Crist - who was until late last month was a Republican candidate - is a bold move for the Florida Education Association, which was practically at war with the previous Republican administration of Gov. Jeb Bush, and has long fought Republican leaders of the state.

And it may be seen as a bit of a blow to Meek, long well-liked in the education community for his hard work for the class size amendment, and a favorite typically of union leaders.

But it also may be a nod to political reality. If Meek is seen as a candidate who can't win, some Meek backers may see Crist as closer to them on issues they care about than Republican candidate Marco Rubio. Meek also has a primary challenge from Jeff Greene. During a speech to another labor group, the AFL-CIO on Saturday, Meek reminded voters that in a three-way race he needs fewer votes, so its flawed logic to think he can't win.

FEA President Andy Ford praised both Meek and Crist in the announcement of the teacher union's co-recommendation to its members, though he put Meek first.

“Kendrick Meek has always been a strong backer of public education and our positions for as long as he’s been (in) public service,” Ford said. “He has always supported our schools and employees. We wouldn’t have the class size provisions in the Florida Constitution without Kendrick’s tireless work to get that on the ballot and to win its approval.

“We know Kendrick would be a welcome addition to the U.S. Senate,” Ford said.

But, he added, “Gov. Charlie Crist took bold action this year in bucking the leaders of his former political party and listening to the teachers and parents of Florida when he vetoed Senate Bill 6 and set the stage for a better Florida application in the federal Race to the Top grant.

“S.B. 6 energized teachers and parents throughout the state and Crist’s actions showed so many Floridians that their voices count,” Ford continued. “We think an independent Charlie Crist working for Floridians would also be a great asset in the Senate.”

The merit pay bill that Crist vetoed was a priority for Republicans. It would have tied teacher pay in some respects to academic improvements by students, rather than having longer serving teachers paid more than newer ones. The move to defeat it by the FEA culminated with a surprising veto from Crist. Since then, the FEA has run ads thanking the governor for the veto.

The dual recommendation to FEA's 140,000 members came as the FEA brass met in Jacksonville to discuss the Senate race. Meanwhile, Crist and Meek were both in Jacksonville to address one of the state's largest labor groups, the AFL-CIO, which was planning on making its endorsement on Sunday. Ford said the FEA wasn't trying to show the AFL-CIO the way with the dual endorsement.

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