AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Education Association announced its endorsement of Gov. John Baldacci for re-election Wednesday, giving the Democratic incumbent another nod from organized labor.

The teachers union said it reached its decision after reviewing all of the candidates and conducting interviews with Baldacci, independent state Rep. Barbara Merrill and Green Independent Party candidate Pat LaMarche.

The MEA said Republican state Sen. Chandler Woodcock, a former teacher who is the GOP gubernatorial nominee, declined an invitation to meet with representatives of the organization.

“Governor Baldacci has not only been a friend of public education, but he understands the value of public education,” Chris Galgay, an elementary school teacher and president of the MEA, said in a statement.

“He not only believes that every student in the state of Maine deserves a great public school, but he has also proven that he is willing to stand side-by-side with our members and our students to fight to improve Maine’s public schools,” said Galgay.

The Maine Education Association says it represents 25,000 teachers, educational support professionals, community college faculty and administrators, University of Maine faculty and other university employees, retired educators and employees of the Maine Public Broadcast Corp.

In the same statement, Baldacci called the teachers’ endorsement “a great honor.”

“What we know is that the future of our state, of our nation, and of our world, will always sit on the shoulders of our children; that the future will be determined by our own efforts to ensure our young people have the opportunities to grow, to learn, to be healthy, upstanding citizens of Maine,” Baldacci said.

Steve Crouse, the MEA’s director of government relations, said the final decision on the endorsement was made by the association’s board of directors in June following a recommendation by a screening panel.

Eligibility for the panel extends to, among others, leaders of union locals.

The teachers’ union backed Baldacci for governor four years ago.

Woodcock spokesman Chris Jackson said Wednesday the Republican candidate for governor, who spent 26 years in public high school classrooms, remains “extremely supportive of education.”

“I just don’t think he had any chance of getting that endorsement,” Jackson said, adding that, “we’re going to focus on taking our message directly to the teachers ourselves.”

Jackson said that during his career Woodcock had been a union member for one year.

Wednesday’s announcement was the just the latest declaration of support for Baldacci from organized labor.

In May, Baldacci was endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6, Bath Iron Works’ largest labor union representing more than 3,900 production employees at the shipyard, and the Maine State Employees Association, the Service Employees International Union Local 1989, which represents some 10,000 workers.

The MEA endorsement was announced at a press conference at the Sheraton South Portland Hotel on Wednesday in conjunction with a meeting of the association’s board.

The association credited Baldacci with helping to develop and enact legislation known as LD 1, which was designed to increase state aid to local schools.

The group also favorably noted Baldacci’s opposition to the package of tax-and-spending curbs known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights – which Woodcock supports – that will go before Maine voters in November, as well as Baldacci’s support for an increase in minimum teacher salaries.

On the federal level, the MEA has decided this year to endorse U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Republican incumbent, for re-election, Crouse said.

Snowe received an MEA endorsement determined by a different format six years ago, Crouse said.

Four years ago, the teachers’ union endorsed Democrat Chellie Pingree in her U.S. Senate bid and the eventual winner, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, said MEA members who endorsed Snowe in 2000 had not been given a chance to vote.

The MEA changed its endorsement process for 2002 to allow union leaders to cast tallies after face-to-face discussions with candidates instead of putting the endorsement to a vote by the full membership.

AP-ES-08-02-06 1537EDT



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