I could not believe my eyes. “This must be a mistake,” I said. “The newspaper must have misprinted this story.” I simply could not believe my eyes.

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2004

This past week, I had two such “I can’t believe my eyes” moments.”

Both occasions involved the same subjects – teachers and teachers’ organizations.

Taken individually, they are almost humorous.

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Taken together, they are almost ominous.

The first “I can’t believe my eyes” moment involved Rod Paige, the U.S. Secretary of Education, who said, “The National Education Association (NEA) is a terrorist organization.”

I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry.

I wanted to laugh because it’s laughable when those teaching our children cannot come together in an organization to protect their interests without being called “terrorists” by the highest education official in the United States of America.

It’s even more laughable when Paige subsequently says he was just “joking.”

In our current atmosphere, we don’t joke by calling people, especially teachers, “terrorists.”

I wanted to cry because this happened in the White House before the nation’s governors.

It’s sad when the powerful become so arrogant that members of any organization, even an organization of those whose members teach our children, are viewed as “terrorists” because they don’t kow tow to the wishes of the powerful.

I wanted to cry because Rod Paige is African American, a descendant of those who knew real terrorism first hand through the whip and the lash of slavery, the hanging ropes and burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan, and the everyday threats of Jim Crow.

I wanted to cry because Rod Paige is the first African American to hold the position of U.S. Secretary of Education, and he misuses this office in efforts to terrorize those who teach our children.

On the heels of Paige’s “terrorist” remarks, Marty Connors, State Chair of the Alabama Republican Party said, in effect, “We will not accept any more money from AEA (Alabama Education Association).

Any legislator who accepts campaign donations from AEA should be disciplined.”

Worse yet, the resolution passed by the Alabama Republican Party declared the NEA as “Anti-American” (another code word like “terrorist.”

I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to cry.

I wanted to laugh because Marty Connors said he was “declaring war” on AEA and on Paul Hubbert.

The image that my mind conjured up brought peels of laughter.

I will not share the image, but you can conjure your own image.

I wanted to laugh because over one-third of AEA’s members are Republican.

In Connors’ contorted political world, even Republican teachers cannot give money to Republican legislators and organizations if it goes through their teachers’ organization.

I wanted to cry because there is something terribly afflicted about Connors’ policies and pronouncements.

It is afflicted when individual legislators cannot decide from whom they will accept campaign donations.

This is especially egregious because Alabama legislators may only accept campaign donations during their election cycles and not during the other three years of their terms.

In my opinion, Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are under much greater pressure to conform to the party line.

Democrats in the Alabama Legislature experience almost no pressure.

There is already a world of difference, but if Marty Connors has his way, there will be a universe of difference.

When I put the statements of Paige and Connors together, I wanted to laugh because the Republican overreach is so great it is comical.

Basically they are saying, “If you oppose me, I will call you terrible names,” or “If you oppose me, I will not accept any more of your money.”

That is comical.

I want to cry because these statements taken together reflect a very dangerous attitude.

It’s an attitude that says, “It’s our way or no way.

Don’t even think about speaking up about what we do!”

I believe it was Lord Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I sense that we are seeing the corruption that power too often breeds.

I hope and pray that I am wrong.

The Republicans I know are decent law abiding citizens.

I believe that I share a decent relationship with most Republican senators and representatives.

I do not sense in them such corruption of power.

However, they are not in charge of education in America.

They are not in charge of the Republican Party in Alabama.

I feel for my fellow legislators who are Republican.

It is hard enough serving under these challenging circumstances without a party making pronouncements which make us want to laugh and cry.

I need to laugh so I don’t have to cry.