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A Close Encounter With Mike Huckabee

This dispatch comes from my colleague, Bess Keller, who covers the teacher beat, including the National Education Association:

Last summer I saw Mike Huckabee take the stage at the National Education Association’s annual meeting and asked myself: What kind of GOP presidential candidate bothers to join the NEA’s Parade of Hopefuls?

The nation’s largest union had invited both Democratic and Republican candidates to address the 7,000-plus delegates in Philadelphia, and, not surprisingly, given the NEA's links with the Democratic Party, all seven major Dems gave speeches. But Huckabee was the only Republican to accept.

Must be, I thought, desperate. Or goofy. And yet his speech was anything but. He managed to sound sincere and secure and to pluck strings almost guaranteed to win favorable responses from the educators, such as his push for more music and art in schools. He gave the impression of a guy who saw children in the round and the human face of schools, which teachers often think policymakers miss in their quest for higher test-scores.

Afterwards, when he met with reporters and was asked about the NEA no-no of pay for performance, he gave it a moderate endorsement. Such experiments were worth trying, he said. He also pointed out that all three of his children had attended public schools in Arkansas.

So I haven’t been completely surprised by Huckabee’s newfound popularity. But I was taken aback the other night, when my lifelong-Democrat, Brooklyn-born-and-raised husband turned over in bed and said he thought he might vote for the Arkansas pastor. He had heard Huckabee’s defense of granting in-state tuition to the children of immigrants. He murmured that it was the best political pronouncement he had heard in a long time and went peacefully back to sleep.

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