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In Post-Palin Alaska, a Union Endorsement

The Alaska state affiliate of the National Education Association is backing Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in the race for governor over Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell.

In picking Berkowitz, the union is making its first official endorsement for governor since 1998, the union's president, Barb Angaiak, explained. The endorsement officially comes from the union's Political Action Committee for Education. Angaiak cited Berkowitz's support for early-childhood education and a return to providing teachers with a defined-benefit pension system.

Berkowitz, a former state lawmaker, "clearly understands the obstacles public education faces in Alaska and shares the priorities of education professionals," Angaiak said in a statement.

The Democrat trails in the polls against Parnell, though he has made up some ground in recent months, according to recent survey by Rasmussen Reports. Parnell replaced former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who stunned many observers by resigning from office mid-term last year and has taken on a leading role in this year's conservative political surge nationally. (Despite her divisive status on the national stage, Palin was generally regarded as politically moderate on education issues during her tenure as governor, as EdWeek has reported.)

Not all of the NEA-Alaska's support is directed at Democrats. The union is backing the candidacy of incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who narrowly lost the GOP primary to Joe Miller, but is attempting to forge ahead as a write-in candidate for the general election. The political action committee of the 13,000-member teachers' union gave its support to Murkowski in June "by an overwhelming vote," and is sticking to it, according to a statement from the Angaiak. Miller, a political newcomer, has the backing of Palin and the Tea Party, and has campaigned on the promise to curb federal spending.

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