MANCHESTER, N.H. -- In a letter to members the president of the New Hampshire State Employees Association blames the media and some of his own members for the mishandling of the union endorsement process that eventually favored John Edwards.
Days ahead of what is expected to be a very spirited union meeting on Saturday, president Gary Smith writes, in a letter obtained by the Globe, that the endorsement process was "open and honest".
When the union endorsed Edwards a few weeks ago there there were many questions about whether or not they had actually pulled their endorsement of Barack Obama and over what role Smith or even the union international president Andy Stern had influencing the outcome. In the end there were several theories about what really happened, but no clear answers.
On Saturday there might be a motion to endorse Mike Huckabee in the Republican race and other motion to invalidate the Edwards endorsement.
The letter is below:
Dear SEA Leader,
The process of endorsing Senator John Edwards was open and honest and a credit to the democracy within our union. Hundreds of members had the opportunity to weigh in with their choice. It was a vigorous and healthy discussion that gave everyone who wanted to an opportunity to express their opinion. We should be proud that in our union we can debate, discuss our differences, and make a decision based on what's best for members, our families, and working people in New Hampshire.
Because many elements of our process, including our internal deliberations, were reported in the media -- often incorrectly -- I want to help SEA members gain a full understanding of our endorsement process.
• Since January, members of our union have played an active role in evaluating the presidential candidates. Several of our members participated in SEIU’s “Walk A Day In My Shoes” program and have their photographs on posters greeting the candidates as they arrive at the Manchester Airport. They and many other members have been getting to know the candidates at New Hampshire for Health Care events in addition to SEA/SEIU 1984 candidate events.
• Our Republican members have been attending campaign events with Republican candidates and asking them where they stand on workers’ issues. Two of our members also serve on SEIU’s national Republican Advisory Committee. In April of this year, that committee decided to follow SEIU’s criteria for making an endorsement in the primary: 1) a candidate must “Walk a Day In Our Shoes”; 2) a candidate must sit down with a member and be videotaped answering three questions (on health care, workers’ freedom to form a union, and creating a new American Dream); 3) a candidate must release a detailed health care plan that guarantees coverage for every man, woman and child in the US; and 4) a candidate must speak to members at SEIU’s Member Political Action Conference. The Political Education Committee also decided to follow those criteria in evaluating the candidates.
• When SEIU made the decision on October 8th that state councils would make their own endorsements, our Political-Education Committee and our Board of Directors faced the difficult question of whether we would make an endorsement in the primary, and if so, which candidate we should endorse. The Committee is constitutionally charged with bringing information on political and legislative questions to the Board, and based on the recommendation of the Committee and other input from members, the Board makes the final decision about endorsements.
• On the basis of numerous conversations with members in the workplace, in their homes, and on the campaign trail, as well as months of research, the Political Education Committee recommended that SEA endorse John Edwards. At our convention on October 27th, Senator Edwards received the most support among the Delegates. At its meeting following that convention, our Board of Directors voted to endorse Senator Edwards. As a result, we publicly announced our endorsement on October 31st.
• There have been other meetings and discussions in which members have expressed their preferences for other candidates. I want to acknowledge the contribution of those members to this process and recognize the importance of their participation. As you’re aware, the media has consistently been reporting that at the October 23rd Board meeting there was a vote to endorse Senator Barack Obama. While the Board did take a preference poll at this meeting and it was Senator Obama who won, the vote was not officially an endorsement. At that same meeting it was decided that no decisions should be announced until after our convention. I’d like to apologize for any role that I may have played in adding to the confusion about that vote.
• It is unfortunate that several individual members have chosen to use the media in an effort to short-circuit our established process and impose their personal opinions on the entire Union. Their decision to take their disagreements straight to the media, instead of raising them within our union, only serves to take attention away from the important work we are all doing to lift up workers in this state and in the country.
Before I close, I’d like to commend the tireless efforts of the Political Education Committee. While the SEA’s Constitution outlines the scope of the Committee’s vital role in the endorsement process, without the dedication and commitment of these members we would be ill-equipped to seek out and support candidates willing to advance the interests of our members and their families. Poli-Ed members volunteer a significant portion of their personal time and energy to cultivate this very essential dialogue regarding candidates who may become future decision makers on key issues for us and our families.
Thank you, as well, for your own participation in the political process. Contributions made by you – our Delegates – have a lasting impact that affects all of our members. Our annual convention provides a great opportunity to plan for our future. That is why I asked for a convention presentation by the members who have volunteered to participate in the development of a ten year vision for our union. I encourage you – and all members – to join in the vision process. If we involve more members in developing a vision of where we want our Association to be in ten years, then we will be better able to walk down this road together.
If you have questions that have not been addressed, or you would like additional information, I encourage you to contact me. With the many challenges our members face today, it’s important now more than ever that we are united to make a difference for our families, our communities and our Union. I look forward to working with you to achieve our goals.
Gary E. Smith,