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A message from NEA-Retired President Tom Curran

A Look Back While Moving Ahead

It happened months ago, but I continue to have two emotions about the 2016 presidential election: gratitude to the NEA-Retired members who knocked on doors, made phone calls, and showed up—trying to make a difference for public education, and concern about today’s political divisiveness. Both emotions cause me to recall personal political experiences.

I was the son of registered Republicans and already teaching when I registered to vote at age 21.

Apparently irritated that I registered Democrat, the registrar demanded I read the state constitution aloud. For a couple of pages, I did—then refused further participation in her “test.” For years, I have used that story to remind others of far greater obstacles some Americans still endure while trying to exercise their right to vote.

I joined NEA and became active with the Maine Teachers Association. This provided opportunities to meet with Maine Sens. Susan Collins, Bill Cohen, and Olympia Snowe—all Republicans, and all friends of public education and retirees.

In 1987, I helped lobby against Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan’s eventually rejected pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. We met with Maine Sen. George Mitchell, a Democrat, who—after grilling us thoroughly—voted to oppose Bork. Still, the senator and I became friends, and that first meeting led to my attendance at two Fourth of July celebrations at his office.

These memories symbolize a time when— regardless of party or differences of opinion— people were civil, and put their country ahead of their party. I don’t see that when I look at today’s U.S. House and Senate. Instead, I see partisanship that recalls the actions of that registrar from long ago.

But when I look at the enduring optimism and energy of educators—active and retired—I believe those days will return.

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