Teachers union hopes to build grass-roots structure to pass margin tax, influence Legislature

As the airwaves are soon inundated with ads about what state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson reflexively calls “the job-killing margin tax,” the teachers union really has only one way to win the campaign.

That method is as old as campaigns, one where an effective grass-roots organization defeats a moneyed array of groups. In this case, it’s the teachers and progressives vs. the gamers, the retailers, the miners, the chambers and more.

So the union has begun to build what it hopes will be the most formidable political organization the state has seen, erected from the granular level on up, using members and parents they can contact to create a devastating force. It is an excellent plan. But it’s the execution that matters.

“If we deliver, it’s a difference-maker,” John Vellardita, the Clark County Education Association’s executive director told me. Yes. If.

And it’s clear the organization sees the margin tax battle soon to be joined as the beginning, not the end – a test of a budding grass-roots effort that is designed to have long-term impacts on both legislative outcomes and campaigns. “We’re out to change the political landscape,” Vellardita said. “It’s not about what we talk about anymore; it’s what we’re doing.”

If indeed, they can do it. I have seen what they are up to, and they have the right approach, data, strategy.

It's real. On paper, at least. And it is not prohibitively expensive.

The broad coalition formed to defeat the tax already is strategizing. Those folks have hired the best – they can afford to – and surely will use figures extracted from Jeremy Aguero’s data-mining that show most of the state’s revenues and employees are contained in the 13 percent or so of businesses that would be affected by the tax.

The teachers can’t compete with the money that will be used to fight a tax that would raise a fortune ($800 million) and could help improve education but whose effects on the economy are unclear and potentially devastating. (That’s an encapsulation of the campaigns, too.)

I think the union sees this as a win even if they lose, though. That is, if they can build an organization that turns out voters – a large number of voters – they can still use it as a network during Session ’15, when they may need to pass something else, and in Campaign ’16 and beyond.

I have long argued that, especially when it comes to legislative races and even more so Carson City lobbying, grass-roots done right beats almost any amount of money. If you have the phone numbers and email addresses of folks willing to pepper lawmakers who live where they live during the 120 days, you can turn inaction to action pretty quickly.

That hasn’t happened in about 20 years when it comes to the teachers union. But this plan is a sign they know what they have to do, and now just have to execute.


(Image from grist.files)