October 13, 2022 5:34 am

Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita, right, casts an “I’ll turn on you in a heartbeat” stare at Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2020. (Photo: Hugh Jackson)

“Radical socialist leftist teachers unions” is a thing Republicans and the right like to say. 

Alas, if only t’were true.

The Clark County Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, is just cold refusing to endorse anyone for governor, evidently because Democrat Steve Sisolak didn’t do exactly what he was told.

Fortunately for the state’s teachers and students, Republican Joe Lombardo will be a dream come true for public education, said no one anywhere.

Lombardo wants to starve the public schools by taking money from them and giving it to private schools. Maybe that’s why CCEA didn’t endorse him either. 

Then again, maybe not. CCEA has never indicated it has much of a problem with the privatization of public education. The union’s leader, John Vellardita, is a perfect fit for Las Vegas, because he’s a transactional guy. Las Vegas is perhaps the nation’s most transactional town (with the exception of Washington D.C.). If Vellardita has an interest in the privatization of education, that interest is likely confined to seeing if he can negotiate collective bargaining rights for teachers in private and charter schools, stick another feather in his cap, and call it macaroni.

Vellardita is also a guy who ran ads during a legislative session once telling lawmakers to stop trying to raise the minimum wage so they could instead focus on the far more important stuff he, the great John Vellardita, wanted. His concern for the economic well-being of student households – long-recognized as by far the most influential indicator of student performance – was also conspicuously absent when Vellardita tried to raise sales taxes, a regressive tax that hurts low-income people the most.

Vellardita and his union have sat on their hands (publicly at least) throughout most of the reign of error that is Jesus Jara’s tenure as superintendent. But then Vellardita rolled Jara but good (with an assist from Sisolak) during contract negotiations not long after Jara arrived. So while Jara’s primary interest appears to be wreaking havoc for teachers and students alike, at least he’s housebroken, from Vellardita’s perspective.

Vellardita fancies himself a tough guy, but he also fancies himself a shrewd guy, so when your pet superintendent’s forte is chaos, well, he’s still your pet superintendent, and hence the obvious thing for the teachers union to say is “shhhhhh.”

In Vellardita’s, er, CCEA’s non-endorsement statement this week, the union took credit for Sisolak’s victory in 2018. That’s silly. To reiterate the obvious, there were three reasons Sisolak won in 2018: Trump, Trump, and Trump (who btw seems the sort of chap Vellardita would vote for). 

This midterm election could be brutal for Democrats, including Sisolak, a calculation Vellardita is surely taking into account, and a bet Vellardita is making. If Lombardo wins, it won’t be because of CCEA’s non-endorsement of Sisolak. But Vellardita at some point will say it was. Maybe Lombardo will believe him, and Vellardita and Lombardo will form a glorious working relationship, a bromance by which education is privatized with a smile and as little controversy as possible, while Vellardita gets some plum or two, like maybe statutory changes effectively allowing him to appoint the school board.

“To our members we say: vote what you know,” concluded CCEA’s non-endorsement statement. 

It’s not readily apparent exactly what that is supposed to mean. But it sure sounds dramatic!

If teachers are going to heed Vellardita’s admonishment and vote what they know, here’s something they should know, if they don’t already: In the races for school board, some candidates tend to be endorsed by progressive people and organizations. Other candidates tend to be endorsed by business interests and groups sharing an affinity with the ideological right – groups that don’t want to pay taxes to provide more funding for education, but do want to see more privatization of public schools. In their own endorsements, CCEA, the area “radical socialist leftist” teachers union, tends to align with those latter groups.

Here’s another other thing the vast majority of teachers know: This is not just another campaign year. There is a lot on the ballot, and a lot at stake, including but certainly not limited to democracy itself. For the state’s largest teachers union to be playing petulant single-issue politics is childish and recklessly short-sighted. But just as chaos is Jara’s forte, petulant single-issue politics is Vellardita’s.

A version of this column was originally published in the Daily Current newsletter, which is free, and which you can subscribe to here.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.