A new world? No, says Union lobby chief who lists conservative interests on his Facebook page

The head lobbyist executive for Oklahoma’s largest teacher’s union has listed numerous conservatives and conservative groups as “activities and interests” on his personal Facebook page, a recent check showed.

Joel Robison is among the Oklahoma Education Association’s leading political strategists and a member of the OEA’s top management – Associate Executive Director, Legislative and Political Organizing. OEA is widely known to largely support liberal policies. 

His Facebook page includes his many liberal interests, as well. Robison said that the Facebook listing is personal and in no way represents a shift in OEA positions or policies.

“These are my personal thoughts, not my organizational thoughts. You need to separate the two,” Robison said.

Robison also addressed persistent rumors he might be lured away from the OEA.

Robison is a career union man and long-time Democrat. On his Facebook site, among his interests and activities, among the bevy of conservative groups and people he lists are:

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the defunct Oklahomans for Responsible Government (whose principal researcher now runs Oklahoma Watchdog.org), conservative political candidate George Faught, Gov. Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma Truth Council and self-described school reformer State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi.

Oklahomans for Responsible Government was a conservative group focused on transparency and governance. Essays on its web site helped lead the charge which defeated State Question 744. The measure could have increased common education funding up to $1.5 billion over several years, by some estimates. Voters trounced it by more than 81 percent against.

He also lists the Oklahoma Policy Institute, CapitolBeatOK.com, House Democrats, Rep. Lee Denney, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, state Treasurer Ken Miller and state Rep. Mike Sanders.

It’s fair to say that frequently, OEA has locked horns with many of the conservatives groups and individuals, especially the last two years. The union rallied its members to lobby against actions taken by Barresi, Oklahomans for Responsible Government, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Gov. Mary Fallin and conservative legislation for school choice, teacher firing practices, collective bargaining, and the levels of common education budget cuts.

Another of Robison’s Facebook “interests” — the AFT — has made concessions to aid reform efforts in the Oklahoma City Public School District.

The disagreements and confrontations by OEA and its allies with conservative advocates and even some traditional allies have become very heated at times. That was certainly the case in the campaign surrounding State Question 744.
Robison said he disagrees with most Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs positions, but because the Legislature is dominated by Republicans, he monitors OCPA because he believes it influences current legislative and policy developments.

OCPA is the state’s leading think tank promoting limited government and free market policy solutions.

Other issues creating divisions between OEA and other leading state groups which came up this past year and are sure to resurface next year, including collective bargaining, charter schools, some version of merit pay, school choice expansion, spending accountability and student achievement reforms.

Robison said he often finds helpful the reporting provided by CapitolBeatOK.com and Oklahomawatchdog.org. CapitolBeatOK.org Editor is Patrick B. McGuigan, and Oklahoma Watchdog.org Editor is Peter J. Rudy. Both are well-known conservatives with mainstream credentials and work experience. Both their web sites feature reporting on all aspects of the political spectrum.

“My basic theory is there’s lots of room for political debate,” Robison said. “I have other interests, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to hate each other’s guts.

“I think the guy that’s doing the watchdog (web site), Peter J. Rudy, is doing a good job. CapitolBeatOK obviously has a lot of insight into what’s going on these days. I like to keep up with what everybody’s saying and reporting.” 

There have been unconfirmed reports of a relationship developing between Robison and the state Department of Education under new State Superintendent of Public Education Janet Barresi, including the possibility of a job at the agency.

Chuckling, Robison said, “I’ve heard the rumors. I have no job offers from the state department of education.” But, would he accept an offer from Barresi’s office?

“Come on, I’m not sure whether or not….I’m not sure I want to go down that…..” he said. “So far as the rumor on the state department, as far as I know, that has no basis in fact.”