Political Fight Over Teachers' Mailboxes
by Rein M. Terrado, Courthouse News, March 30, 2015
HONOLULU (CN) - The state teachers union sued Hawaii for banning the use of teachers' school mailboxes to distribute campaign materials for union elections.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association claims that in state court that it's been using teachers' mailboxes to circulate candidate information for more than 43 years.
The union holds elections for officers and representatives every three years. It will send out ballots for this year's election on April 13. Voting concludes April 24.
According to the March 23 complaint in First Circuit Court, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission told a candidate that putting flyers in teachers' mailboxes was "prohibited as it was a personal benefit to a candidate."
The warning came after elementary schoolteacher Justin Hughey, a candidate for HSTA vice president, tried to distribute a 1-page flyer in Maui High School on March 3.
The union claims that a School Administrative Services Assistant told Hughey that he could distribute the flyers "so long as it was done by an HSTA faculty representative."
But on March 12, Ethics Commission Executive Director Leslie Kondo issued an advisory opinion, stating, "the teacher's intended use of the school mailboxes as a means to distribute his HSTA-related campaign materials is inappropriate and would violate the State Ethics Code."
"We believe that the teacher's campaign for HSTA elected office constitutes a private business activity, and accordingly, he cannot use school resources for that purpose," Kondo wrote.
But the union claims that teachers' mailboxes are the "sole global means by which to reach the HSTA membership" in the most cost-effective manner.
The Department of Education prohibits HSTA candidates from using government e-mail services for union election-related activities.
The union asks the court to uphold the 43-year-old practice and allow the union to use teachers' mailboxes for the election in April.
The State of Hawaii, the Department of Education, Gov. David Ige, and state Superintendent of Education Kathryn Matayoshi are also defendants.
The teachers union popularized the line: "Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. This time, we're voting for David Ige," during the 2014 election.
In 2011, then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie imposed a teachers' contract with pay cuts of nearly 5 percent. The union then bombarded the state with its ads for Ige, a political newcomer. Apparently, it paid off. In 2014 Abercrombie became the first Hawaii governor to lose to a primary challenger, and only the second to lose a bid for re-election.
The union represents 13,500 teachers.
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