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Paige tells governors National Education Association is ``terrorist organization''
NOTE: The story grows in detail--and context. There are several versions posted, ending with The New York Times.

Robert Tanner, Associated Press
San Francisco Chronicle

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 the education's secretary's remarks about the National Education Association.

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

Several Democratic governors called the remarks inappropriate.

"He was making a joke, probably not a very good one," said 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.

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Education secretary calls teachers union a 'terrorist organization'

Associated Press
Feb. 23, 2004 01:12 PM


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."

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Education secretary jokes that NEA is 'terrorist' group

The Associated Press
Published on: 02/23/04
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation's largest teachers union a "terrorist organization" Monday, taking on the 2.7-million-member National Education Association early in the presidential election year.

Paige's comments, made to the nation's governors at a private White House meeting, were denounced by union president Reg Weaver as well as prominent Democrats. Paige said he was sorry, and the White House said he was right to say so.

The education secretary's words were "pathetic and they are not a laughing matter," said Weaver, whose union has said it plans to sue the Bush administration over lack of funding for demands included in the "No Child Left Behind" schools law.

Paige said later in an Associated Press interview that his comment was "a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words." President Bush was not present at the time he made the remark.

"As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better," said Paige, the first black education secretary.

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

Paige said he had made clear to the governors that he was referring to the Washington-based union organization, not the teachers it represents.

Weaver responded, "We are the teachers, there is no distinction."

Paige's Education Department is working to enforce a law that amounts to the biggest change in federal education policy in a generation. He has made no attempt to hide his frustration with the NEA, which has long supported Democratic presidential candidates.

Asked if he was apologizing, Paige said: "Well, I'm saying that I'm sorry I said it, yeah." In a statement released to the media, Paige said he chose the wrong words to describe "the obstructionist scare tactics" of NEA lobbyists.

Said White House spokesman Scott McClellan: "The comment was inappropriate and the secretary recognized it was inappropriate and quickly apologized."

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, put it in stronger terms, accusing Paige of resorting "to the most vile and disgusting form of hate speech, comparing those who teach America's children to terrorists."

Education has been a top issue for the governors, who have sought more flexibility from the administration on 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. The union backs the intent of the law but says many of its provisions must be changed.

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.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, said, "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."

Paige, in an interview, talked at length about his agency's efforts to work with states over their concerns with the law. He said meetings with state leaders have erased misunderstandings and a tone of confrontation.

But he said some opposition to the law has been stirred by at least three groups that are "hard nosed, highly financed and well organized." Asked to name the groups other than the NEA, Paige declined, saying: "I've already got into deep water with that one, haven't I?"

The governors were 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 that during the private meeting, Bush took only two questions, leaving little time for a full exploration of issues.

"It would have been helpful for him to have heard the discussions about 'No Child Left Behind' because there may be a disconnect between what he thinks and what we know," Vilsack said.

In brief public comments, Bush told the governors 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."
=======
Education Chief Calls Union 'Terrorist,' Then Recant
By Robert Pear
New York Times
February 24, 2004


WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 Education Secretary Rod Paige said Monday that the National Education Association, one of the nation's largest labor unions, was like "a terrorist organization" because of the way it was resisting many provisions of a school improvement law pushed through Congress by President Bush in 2001.

Mr. Paige made the comment in a private meeting with governors at the White House, just hours before the president stepped up the tempo of his re-election campaign with a speech attacking his Democratic opponents.

The secretary later apologized for a poor choice of words, but repeated his criticism of the teachers' union as a group of obstructionists.

His initial remark was described by four governors and confirmed by the Education Department. "The secretary was responding to a question," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paige. "He said he considered the N.E.A. to be a terrorist organization."

The governors who recounted Mr. Paige's remarks were two Democrats, Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan and James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, and two Republicans, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Linda Lingle of Hawaii.

Ms. Granholm said the governors were "all a little bit stunned" to hear the union described that way.

Mr. Huckabee said Secretary Paige "was trying to point out that one reason it's been so difficult to execute real reform is that a lot of people in teachers' unions are trying to protect the status quo."

And Governor Lingle said, "He's frustrated" by the N.E.A.'s "lack of support for a law that's clearly aimed at helping all children." She said Mr. Paige had complained that the union seemed concerned more about its 2.7 million members than about children.

In an interview, Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said: "Secretary Paige's comments were pathetic and morally repugnant. They are no laughing matter. When our members learn of his comments, they will be outraged, and even more determined to make changes in the law."

The law, the No Child Left Behind Act, calls for greater use of standardized tests and remedial action to raise student achievement and improve school performance. Some governors, while endorsing the goals, say the federal government has not provided enough money for states to meet them. The union is lobbying for legislation that would give states more flexibility and more money.

After his remark had begun circulating, Mr. Paige issued a statement saying he had gone too far in describing the union as a terrorist organization. "It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics that the N.E.A.'s Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind's historic education reforms," he said.

"As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks," said Mr. Paige, who is black and was born in a segregated Mississippi, "I should have chosen my words better."

Mr. Paige suggested that the union's lobbyists were out of step with its members.

"Our nation's teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy," he said.

By contrast, he asserted, "the N.E.A.'s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children, regardless of skin color, accent or where they live."

Mr. Weaver, the union's president, said there was no difference between its members and its leadership. "We are the teachers," he said. "There is no distinction."

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman, said, "Secretary Paige and the Bush administration have resorted to the most vile and disgusting form of hate speech, comparing those who teach America's children to terrorists."

John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said, "The Bush administration would like to label all those who disagree with it as terrorists in order to cover up its policies, which are harmful to working families, and to divert attention from its inability to create good jobs."

Education appears likely to be a major issue in this year's elections.

"I'm going to vigorously defend No Child Left Behind," Mr. Bush said Monday, "because I know in my heart of hearts it's the absolute right role for the federal government: to provide money, but insist upon results." The president called the law "one of the most constructive reforms in education policy" ever undertaken by the federal government.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a Republican, said he shared the president's view. "The cry cannot be solely, `Send us more money,' " Mr. Pawlenty said. "That is one measure, but it cannot be the only measure."

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2004/02/24/education/24GOVS.html&tntemail1



Paige tells governors National Education Association is ``terrorist organization''


02-23-04


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