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Scott Barnett snapped up the endorsement of the teachers union last night for the San Diego Unified school board primary. That’s big news in the school board race, where the teachers union is usually the most active player and the only big spender.

It makes Barnett, a Republican, a much more serious contender in the tough sledding to unseat an incumbent school board member, John de Beck, a longtime trustee and former teacher.

This is the first time that the teachers union hasn’t given de Beck their endorsement. His relationship with the union has decidedly soured; de Beck has also annoyed the rest of the school board by interrupting discussions and refusing to participate in budget plans.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Barnett talks about labor issues now that he has the teachers’ endorsement. Seven years ago, he told a young Daily Transcript reporter named Andrew Donohue (now, ahem, my editor) that organized labor is “shifting public wealth to one segment of the populations — public employees — at the expense of the public citizenry.”

Teachers union President Camille Zombro said she didn’t think Barnett would be “100 percent” on labor issues.”The fact is he’s a Republican and he comes from a perspective that differs from a more labor-oriented perspective. We understand that,” Zombro said.

“But the important thing with anyone in an elected position is they listen to and work effectively with stakeholders. We’re not just looking for ‘yes’ people,” she added.

The question is how Barnett plays that endorsement.

He also got the nod from the Republican Party this week. The last candidate to unseat a sitting school board member, John Lee Evans, talked up the teachers and their support big time in 2008. This definitely isn’t the first time that the teachers have opted for a Republican candidate, but how Barnett balances those two nods is worth watching.

“I told the teachers and the GOP the same thing,” Barnett told me in a text message. “That I wanted to restructure and reform the finances and management of SDUSD and direct more funds to the classroom.”

The fact that the union chose Barnett is even more interesting in light of the fact that it didn’t choose anyone in the race to replace another incumbent, Katherine Nakamura, who has also been unpopular with the union.

It shows that choosing Barnett wasn’t just a way to show it was peeved with de Beck.

So why didn’t the union pick anyone over Nakamura — including a seemingly labor-friendly candidate, Kevin Beiser, who teaches in a Sweetwater middle school? Beiser seemed positive on the issues, Zombro said, but he didn’t demonstrate knowledge of “our members and the issues we care about.”

“This is not an indication that Nakamura is someone that our members support,” Zombro added.

— EMILY ALPERT

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