A Teacher Turns To Politics
Why Me? That was the slogan written on signs and cards as Mary Flaherty Artuso began her first election campaign back in 1986-1987, to be a region representative on the Pennsylvania State Education Association Legislative Committee. Beneath this slogan she answered the question, citing her years of experience as a reading specialist and drama teacher, and her desire to help fellow teachers and affect change.
Artuso had decided to run for the position after becoming disillusioned with her work. “I don’t know if there was a specific issue. I was feeling as though I didn’t have much control of my own career,” says Artuso. “I started getting involved in my local Association and found it was giving me just a little bit more control over my career and my school, and a sense of fulfillment when I assisted my fellow teachers.”
She won—and the next year, her signs asked “Why Me, Again?” Nearly 20 years later, Artuso is still active in politics.
Among the highlights of her involvement was a successful campaign several years ago to stop a bill in the legislature that would have required retired teachers to get recertified every five years if they wanted to keep a valid credential.
“I get a great deal of fulfillment knowing there are thousands and thousands of teachers who don’t have to worry about losing their certification,” Artuso said.
Since Artuso, 63, retired on June 30, 1997, she has remained active in protecting and promoting educators and public education.
But her political career hasn’t been without losses. Two years ago, while attending the NEA Representative Assembly in Washington, D.C., a call in her hotel room told her she had lost an election for chair of PSEA’s retired members.
Setting up a network of volunteer retiree lobbyists
She didn’t let that disappointment stop her—or even slow her down. Artuso applied for and won a grant from NEA to establish PSEA’s retired legislative network, which recruits volunteers to lobby all of Pennsylvania ’s state and national officials who have influence over public education.
“Everyone’s excited about it,” she says. “The members I’ve talked to say they’re very willing to do this because they know they won’t be working alone but in a group,” said Artuso.
Artuso is active in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and heads the NEA’s Democratic Caucus. But she has no problem working with Republicans. Artuso’s youngest sister, Anne, is a Republican and a PSEA PAC director in a different part of Pennsylvania. “People have said to me, I bet you fight with your sister a lot. I answer, absolutely not. Even though we belong to different parties, we are united by our concern for education.”
How It Works
To build her Pennsylvania lobbying network, Mary Artuso plans to assign three to five Retired members to every one of Pennsylvania ’s 272 legislators. Each group will have a chair responsible for setting up appoint-ments at the group’s designated legislator’s local office. Each region in the state will have a coordin-ator. When an issue comes up, the region coordinators will alert the chairs of each group and furnish him or her with background material with which to prepare the group for lobbying.
Many states include retirees in their lobbying efforts, although only a few have networks made up specifically of retirees.
To find out if your state has a Retired legislative network or to help establish one, contact your state NEA-Retired Association.