CHAMPAIGN — Saying that he had "longed for this recommendation in past campaigns," Democratic congressional candidate David Gill Tuesday accepted the endorsement of the Illinois Education Association.
The IEA's backing, along with that of the National Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, means thousands of dollars in campaign contributions plus the potential of votes of thousands of teachers and retired teachers in the district that stretches from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
Gill said he had wanted the IEA's backing in earlier congressional races but never got it.
Germaine Light, the IEA's chairwoman in Region 9 said Tuesday that the NEA "has a policy that if they have an incumbent that they can work with, they'll stay with him," and that's why the organization backed U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, in his three races against Gill.
"We don't actually look at new candidates until we decide (the incumbent) is really bad," she said. "In that case we never really found that the incumbent, the past incumbent, Tim Johnson ... he wasn't the best but he really wasn't failing in those efforts. He did go out on the limb a couple of times."
The IEA's policies even prevented interviewing Gill in his three previous races "and I think it's a shame," Light said.
This time, though, the IEA chose Gill over Republican Rodney Davis. The third candidate in the race, independent John Hartman, was not considered because he wasn't an official candidate at the time of the interviews in June. Hartman filed his candidacy petitions on June 25.
If elected, Gill said, he would push the federal government to invest more money in science, technology, engineering and math education; introduce a resolution to investigate states and school districts that curtail collective bargaining rights for teachers; oppose vouchers for private schools; and promote higher education.
The investigation regarding collective bargaining rights would be paired, he said, with a resolution calling for collective bargaining rights for all public school educators in the United States.
"Many, many people in this country have been disturbed by the attacks upon the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Many of us thought this was settled decades ago and for it to be reopened by Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers and those whom the Koch Brothers support, I find that to be disturbing," Gill said.
He insisted that research shows "that vouchers do not improve public schools by creating competition. It also has been proven that the academic achievement of voucher program students is no better than comparable public school students."
And he said he would not support federal funding for charter schools either.
"Anything that involves public dollars, I think those should only go into public education," he said. "I stand for a big, strong public education program."
Funding for his federal education improvement programs would come from higher taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes, Gill said.
"We have a priorities problem in this country. There are numerous ways to pay for it while resolving the $16 trillion deficit," the Bloomington Democrat said. "We have to be open to the process of raising revenues and by that I mean having the millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share, closing loopholes so that a quarter of the corporations are paying their taxes at a zero or negative effective rate."
He disputed a new Davis television commercial that says that "Gill wants to raise your taxes by trillions." He called it one of the "two grand lies about me" in the campaign. The second, he said, is that he wants to end Medicare.
"One, I will never vote to increase taxes on people making less than a quarter million dollars. I will never do that. When I talk about revenue increases, that's having millionaires and billionaires and corporations pay their fair share, strictly that," said Gill, an emergency room physician. "Second, I love Medicare. I've watched Medicare save thousands of lives. I belong to a group that has advocated for an improved and expanded Medicare program."
It's unclear how much money the teacher union endorsements will mean to Gill.
"I don't know how much. I hope it's a lot," said Light.
In 2010 the NEA gave $3,000 to Johnson's reelection campaign