Any college student who has had a political science course has learned that the clinical definition of “politics” is simply “social relations involving authority or power.” However, many people don’t realize the inner-workings of politics go beyond party affiliation.
Billy Husher is a Southeast Missouri State University alumnus who desired to go beyond the role of the average citizen. As the state affiliate political organizer (SAPO) for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Colorado, he also serves as the political director and political mobilization organizer.
The mission statement of the AFT is dedicated to improving the lives of its members, including public school teachers, health care professionals, higher education personnel and other public employees. The AFT seeks to strengthen the institutions in which these professional individuals work, improve the quality of services they provide and promote democracy in their union, their nation and throughout the world.
Husher said there is no normal day in his position.
“We are working to create and support public policy that will not only be innovative, but also will provide the best environment for educating our children, providing public services and quality and affordable health care,” Husher said. “I have the opportunity to be a part of a better state and nation.”
The AFT represents the “backbone of our country,” Husher said, and no one group’s needs are more important than another’s.
“These professionals provide us with services that make us the great nation we are,” he said. “Although the majority of our membership is comprised of public school teachers, I cannot say that public policy for K-12 education is more important than the need for quality higher education or health care. Nor can I say that quality state infrastructure is not important.”
For example, many public school teachers share the frustration that results from not having a voice in decisions made by an administration that is not in the classroom every day,” he said. “The AFT understands this, and earlier this year, Husher and the AFT Colorado helped to change an education bill that would circumvent state laws and teachers’ contracts in order to create “innovation zones.”
“We worked in conjunction with the other education advocacy groups and several legislators in amending the bill, to allow the educators in the classroom to have a say in the process by having a vote. The bill now requires that 60 percent of the affected teachers vote to create schools of innovation. The teachers in the schools working directly with our children are the experts, and their input is necessary in creating policy and providing quality education,” Husher said.
Husher graduated from Southeast with a bachelor of science degree in political science and a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish in 2004. He said Southeast developed his interests into expertise.
“With the tools I was given by Southeast, and my drive to improve myself, I was able to come out with a strong knowledge of politics, as well as a new-found fluency in the Spanish language,” he said.
Fluency in the Spanish language affords many opportunities, and Husher said his time at Southeast offered him a life-changing moment.
“By far, my most favorite moment with Southeast was my semester abroad studying in Madrid, Spain, with the Department of Foreign Language,” he said. “I love to travel anywhere in Latin America. There is such a vibrant, deep culture in Central and South America.”
Husher had previous political organization experience through volunteerism and position canvassing with Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) New Mexico, where he was responsible for educating and fund raising for progressive issues such as pushing for alternative energy applications.
He began working with the AFT in New Mexico as a part of a Collective Bargaining Organizing Project. He said the project’s function was to restore collective bargaining (CB) to local unions that lost contract rights when the previous public employee CB law was allowed to sunset. Gov. Richardson passed a new CB bill that allowed employees to have guaranteed employees rights with a CB contract, he said.
“Thirty percent of the employees had to sign cards to say they wish to have formal union representation recognized by the employer in order to negotiate an employee contract,” Husher said. “We talked with teachers and support staff before school, on break and after school about issues surrounding the district, state and the union, to build strength for the workers’ voices.”
Husher said he worked for the AFT in New Mexico for about a year before transferring to the AFT in Colorado as part of the state affiliate political organizer (SAPO) program.
“The SAPO program is part of the national AFT’s commitment to the political importance in each state,” he said. “Each organization has different institutional and political needs. An ‘average day’ at work can range from organizing teachers at the capitol to testifying and rallying for testing reform, to attending a conference on school finance policy to following an endorsed candidate across the state or country to educate our members on their policy and record.”
Surprisingly, Husher said his least favorite part of the job is the same reason he loves his job.
“There will always be certain interests that attack quality, well-funded public education, so I spend much more time fighting attacks on education and health care rather than helping to push for the positive reforms that are really needed in Colorado schools,” he said.
Husher also points out one of the difficulties of working with elected officials.
“These lawmakers are constantly facing new elections, so they have to worry about whether a vote will hurt them politically, even if it would be the right thing to do. A Democrat in a Republican-leaning area or a Republican in a Democrat-leaning area has to worry about his or her vote being viewed as too progressive or conservative for their constituency,” he said.
While Husher gains multiple opportunities with his position at the AFT Colorado, he said one of the main reasons he lives in Colorado is because he loves the outdoors.
“I enjoy camping, hiking, rafting or any other outdoor activity. I also am a member of the Continental Divide Trail Association, and I volunteer to build and maintain the Continental Divide Trail to allow others to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the outdoors,” he said.
In fact, Husher enjoyed similar activities during his time in Cape Girardeau.
“I was active volunteering with the Ozark Trail Association. The OTA is building a trail that connects the Ozark Highland Trail in Arkansas to St. Louis, but when in Cape there is nothing better to do than simply spend time with your friends,” he said. “I realize how much I miss the opportunity to hang out with such a wide variety of interesting and genuine people. We enjoyed playing pickup volleyball and soccer at Arena Park, or going out ‘on the town’ along Main Street.”
Husher would like to add a piece of advice for students at Southeast:
“We are what we know and do. Everything you experience will make you a better and [more] well-rounded person, so take the opportunities that come up. You will find you are better for it,” he said.