Teachers switching registration for primary

The three Rs for Hollidaysburg Area teachers have become Reading, Writing and Republican, because the arithmetic doesn’t bode well for their school board election votes if they’d stay registered as Democrats.

In a move that resulted in a reminder from the district superintendent to keep political activity to the confines set by the teachers’ union contract, the heavily Democratic Hollidaysburg Area Education Association has asked its members to switch their party registration for the primary election.

Nine of the 10 candidates are cross-filed for the May 21 primary, but Republican voters, 11,964, vastly outnumber Democrats, 5,941, in the district, so a candidate winning with an “R” beside his or her name has an advantage going into the general election.

By switching from Democratic to Republican for the primary, Hollidaysburg teachers might help candidates including Democrat Rob Jodon, who is running on a platform opposing the current conservative tea party Republican board members, win GOP ballot slots for the general election.

Union president Jim Murphy declined to say which candidates the union recommended.

“If you want your vote to count, you need to switch parties,” union President Jim Murphy said. He said that he was not entirely sure whether it’s a winning political strategy, but he believes it’s a prudent one. “If you don’t have an R by your name in the fall, you are doomed.”

A leaked email shows union representatives guided its members through switching their registrations in March.

In response to possible political action taking place during the school day – which Murphy said did not happen – District Superintendent Paul Gallagher said he reminded union representatives to conduct union business after school and reminded them of rules not to use district email for political purposes. Prohibitions against political activity and computer use are stated in the teachers’ contract and a social media policy adopted by the board.

Gallagher said he had no evidence that some teachers might have felt coerced by union requests to switch voter registration for the primary.

“The only matter I addressed was political matters during school day. Sometimes you have to remind people,” he said, adding that he received no further reports or complaints.

Murphy said there has been no semblance of coercion. “I don’t know if any members are uncomfortable. They are free to mention that to me. They are free to do as they please,” he said.

All of the district’s 258 teachers are members of the union.

“We are a mild-mannered union. We couldn’t strong-arm an anemic flea. It’s not in our nature,” Murphy said.

“A lot of people say no, and we leave it at that,” he said.

Democratic Chairman Frank Rosenhoover said the union’s temporary party switch could be a smart move for it to combat the resurgence of tea party candidates.

Brady Leahey is the only incumbent seeking re-election to another four-year term. Like the majority of board members since 2009-10, he has voted against raising taxes. The board is currently negotiating a new teacher contract and seeking some concessions from the union before considering tax increases.

Newcomer Patrick McClain, in medical sales and marketing, agrees with current board decisions and stated that he does not believe raising taxes is the answer to the district’s financial difficulties.

Ten candidates are competing for four seats on the board. The entire field of candidates includes Ron Sommer, Mark Dellinger, Scott Brenneman, Andrew Swope, Matthew Fox, John Schmidt, Dean Rossi, Jodon, McClain and Leahey.

Blair County Republican chairman A.C. Stickel said groups of Republicans and Democrats have switched parties during primaries to influence which candidates appear in general elections at all levels of government.

He said the tactic is unethical because a primary is not an election. It is the party’s opportunity to select its candidates.

“If you believe in the principles of the Democratic platform and register as a Republican, I think that is unethical,” Stickel said.

“If you are a Democrat, don’t try to mess up our primary.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.