In the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have raised taxes and increased K-12 appropriations by a combined $638 million, or 20 percent. That sum includes funding for a two-year combined average teacher pay raise of more than $7,000.
Yet that hasn’t stopped one prominent public-education activist from calling for the ouster of as many as 35 Republican lawmakers, despite the fact most of those lawmakers supported teacher pay raises and school-funding increases. Those being targeted include 15 senators and 20 House lawmakers, including several legislative leaders.
Alberto Morejon runs the “Oklahoma Teachers-The Time is Now” Facebook group, and has been prominent in much media coverage regarding teacher unrest. In October 2018, StateImpact Oklahoma referred to Morejon as “an 8th-grade teacher at Stillwater Public Schools largely credited with organizing the teacher walkout in April.”
In a recent post, Morejon encouraged people to run against numerous incumbent lawmakers, writing, “Below is a list of many Representatives who need to be replaced (Team A) or possibly need to be replaced (Team B), depending on how they vote next session. These Representatives were chosen based on their voting records for education this last session …”
Morejon described the listed lawmakers as individuals who do not support Oklahoma schools, writing, “We desperately need pro-public education candidates in these districts identified below to run for office.”
He cited the primary losses of several Republicans in 2018 as inspiration.
“We must eliminate these bad incumbents during the primaries, or force a runoff” Morejon wrote. “If you remember last year, 6 anti-public education incumbents were defeated in the primary, and another 6 were defeated in the runoff.”
While Morejon described the 12 Republicans defeated in 2018 primaries as opponents of public education, most of them voted to raise teacher pay and increase school spending. Some of those lawmakers, however, were criticized by education activists for not supporting tax increases, although those tax-increase opponents typically argued teacher pay raises could be funded by redirecting other government spending.
But four lawmakers who lost re-election bids in 2018, who Morejon describes as “anti-public education incumbents,” voted to both raise taxes and boost teacher pay by an average $6,100 that year – former Reps. Greg Babinec, Scooter Park, and Steve Vaughan, and former Sen. Ervin Yen.
Morejon’s target list for 2020 similarly targets many incumbent Republicans who voted for the 2018 tax increases along with teacher pay raises and increased school funding, including Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, House Majority Whip Terry O’Donnell, and House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair Kevin Wallace.
Overall, 13 House members and eight senators on Morejon’s target list voted for 2018 tax increases along with K-12 funding hikes.
Morejon issued letter grades to lawmakers on his list, based on how they voted on a hodgepodge of bills this year, to rank whether he considered them supporters of public education. Morejon gave Treat a 14-percent F grade. Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Treat, defended the pro tem’s education record.
“Few people at the Oklahoma Capitol have done more for public education than Senator Greg Treat,” Cooper said. “Under the leadership of Senator Treat, classrooms have seen tens of millions of dollars in new funding and teachers have seen a pay raise of more than $7,400 on average. The facts clearly show that Senator Treat is a champion for public education and he will continue to fight for our students so that they get the best quality education to help them succeed.”
Cooper said Morejon’s group has never requested a meeting with Treat.
In the 2016 and 2018 elections, activists touted the “education caucus,” a list of candidates who filed for office who were teachers, school board members or administrators, or were married to individuals who worked in a school system.
Morejon’s list indicates he now wants to oust several lawmakers who fit the “teacher caucus” description. Among those targeted for ouster is Sen. Micheal Bergstrom of Adair, who spent nearly two decades working in the classroom, primarily at Bluejacket Public Schools. Another lawmaker being targeted, Sen. Roland Pederson of Burlington, served as a Chisholm High School science teacher and as Kremlin-Hillsdale Middle School’s principal. Pederson’s mother was also a schoolteacher, and his wife is a middle school teacher. Sen. Lonnie Paxton’s wife is a second-grade schoolteacher at Tuttle Public Schools. As a young man, Sen. Wayne Shaw of Grove worked as a public school teacher.
Some lawmakers appear bewildered by Morejon’s attacks.
“I don’t know where this guy is coming from, where he gets his information, but he’s wrong on me if he’s got me as not for public education,” Pederson said.
Morejon gave Pederson a 73-percent, low-C grade for his support of public education, and lumped Pederson in a group of lawmakers who “possibly need to be replaced in 2020.” Lawmakers given a D grade, 69 percent or lower, were declared among those who “for sure need to be replaced in 2020.”
“I can’t think of anybody that’s supported education legislation any more than what I have,” Pederson said, noting he was previously endorsed by another education group and worked to pass legislation benefiting retired teachers.
Pederson said he does not recall Morejon ever interacting with him.
When he first ran for office in 2016, Bergstrom noted he campaigned on raising teacher pay—“which, by the way, we got the pay raise.” He worked this year, successfully, to increase classroom funding. Bergstrom has also run legislation to raise the income eligibility limit so more children of teachers can receive state-funded college scholarships through the “Oklahoma’s Promise” program, noting the children of a single-parent teacher he knows are not eligible for the program today because that teacher works three jobs.
“Obviously, since these are the type of things that I’ve fought for—I’ve done that over and over again—I’m clearly pro-education, pro-public education, especially when you consider that I was a teacher in Bluejacket, Oklahoma, for almost 19 years,” said Bergstrom, who Morejon gave a 33-percent F grade.
Ironically, one lawmaker Morejon wants to oust—Rep. Chris Kannady of Oklahoma City, who Morejon gave a 69-percent D grade—played a role in ousting several Republican incumbents last year. Kannady was involved in raising money for a political action committee that funded negative campaigns targeting many of his fellow GOP lawmakers. Now, the defeat of those lawmakers is being cited by Morejon as pointing the way to do the same thing to Kannady.
“The fact that Mr. Morejon is comparing me to those former legislators shows he is out of touch with reality,” Kannady said in a written statement. “He is just as fringe as them, just on a different part of the circle. It is the core members of the Legislature on his list that ushered through teacher pay increases and the largest education budgets in history.”
This is not the first time Morejon has sought Kannady’s defeat. On Nov. 3, 2018, Kannady’s Democratic opponent, Amanda Jeffers, posted a picture on Facebook of herself and Morejon. Jeffers wrote that Morejon “drove all the way from Stillwater!” to volunteer for her campaign.
Kannady won that race with more than 62 percent of the vote.
In 2018, legislative Democrats supported tax increases and legislation raising teacher pay rates, but many opposed the general appropriations bill that actually directed funding to schools to cover the cost of the pay raises. This year, many Democrats again opposed the general appropriation bill that funded state government, including a new round of teacher pay raises and increased school funding.
No Democrats appear on Morejon’s target list, only Republicans.
“It seems like this is more of a partisan attack,” Bergstrom said, “than a legitimate attack.”