The state's teachers union blasted Democrat Douglas F. Gansler Tuesday morning about his new ads in the governor's race that call for "skill over seniority" in the classroom.
In Gansler's 30-second spot about education that began airing in Baltimore Tuesday, he said "In Maryland, we’re proud to have some of the best schools in the nation, but we also have some of the worst, where too many kids get left behind. ... For starters, instead of putting ineffective teachers in classrooms because of seniority, let’s put the most effective teachers to work."
The Maryland State Education Association, which backs Gansler's political foe Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, reacted with intense rhetoric, releasing a statement Tuesday that called the advertisement a "reckless campaign communication" and compared Gansler to controversial Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has a long and heated history of fighting with teachers.
The teachers union argued Gansler oversimplified the causes behind marked disparity in achievement among students, and accused him of "blaming" the problem on teachers.
"He raises a red herring issue as a justification to advance an anti-teacher, anti-union, and anti-progress agenda," Sean Johnson, executive director for political and legislative affairs for the teachers' union, said in a statement.
Gansler's campaign responded that his priorities are "in line with those of the Obama administration" and rejected the idea he was anti-teacher.
"Like Doug, Maryland teachers want effective teachers in every classroom because educating kids is their number one mission. Doug's policies will support them, reward excellence and help all our public schools and our children succeed," campaign spokeswoman Katie Hill said in a statement.
The three-way contest for the Democratic nomination has been marked by acrimony, and Tuesday's attack echoes a theme pressed by Brown, the front-runner. Brown, who earned the backing of the teachers, repeatedly tries to cast Gansler as a "Republican" for his ideas, and his campaign staff frequently attempt to portray the attorney general as reckless.
Brown has secured the endorsement of most major labor and interest groups in Maryland, and this is the second time in recent weeks one of those groups has gone on the attack against Gansler.
A veterans group that backs Brown in April seized on Gansler's remark that implied Brown’s work as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves was not a "real job," and their demand for an apology drove media coverage of the gaffe for days.
The third candidate in the race, Del. Heather Mizeur, has generally declined to engage in attacks. The primary election is June 24.
Gansler's campaign said the brief television ad advances a yet-to-be-released policy proposal about paying teachers for performance - another topic controversial in education circles.
"This is about rewarding effectiveness and paying good teachers more, something that I'm sure even the teachers union bosses agree is important," said Hill, of the Gansler campaign.