President Obama delivers remarks during a campaign event at Canyon Springs… (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images )
NORTH LAS VEGAS – Continuing a back-to-school-timed campaign push on education, President Obama shifted Wednesday from the cost of higher education to the value of teachers, blasting rival Mitt Romney for portraying educators as “nameless bureaucrats.”
Among the teachers he did identify by name was his own: Mabel Hefty, who he said “took me under her wing” during a year of transition after returning to Hawaii after years living overseas.
“She made me feel like I had something to say, and that I had some talent. … She made sure that during this transition year I was able to steady myself and start focusing on my work,” he said of his fifth-grade teacher. “I’m only standing here as president because I had a bunch of great teachers like Miss Hefty.”
The president told a boisterous crowd of nearly 3,000 in a high school gymnasium here that even as the private sector has continued to add jobs, there are 300,000 fewer teachers and school workers now than in 2009, largely a consequence of state and local budget cuts.
He said that House Republicans, including GOP running mate Paul Ryan, blocked his 2011 jobs bill that would have helped a state like Nevada prevent further layoffs. As the crowd booed lustily, Obama interjected: “Don’t boo. Vote!”
Obama claimed Romney “says we’ve got enough teachers.”
“The way he talks about them, it seems as if he thinks these are a bunch of nameless government bureaucrats that we need to cut back on. … And his economic plan certainly would do that,” he said.
To Romney saying he would only keep the Department of Education in place as a way of “policing teachers,” Obama quipped: “That’s like saying you keep the Department of Agriculture around so you can push around farmers.”
Even as Obama told the crowd that education should not be a partisan issue, it’s one he’s been hitting hard on the trail this week, and likely will continue to next week on a tour of college towns.
As the president pushed education in stops in this key swing state, his campaign launched a new ad on the contrast with Romney on the state’s already-saturated airwaves. Another new ad, airing in Ohio and Virginia, features two parents slamming Romney for saying class sizes “don’t matter.”
On the issue of class sizes, the Romney campaign pointed to comments from Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, citing a report he said “class size has been a sacred cow and I think we need to take it on.”
“After nearly four years, President Obama is so desperate to hold on to power that he’ll even attack policies supported by his own Education secretary,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in responding to Obama’s rally. “The Obama economy has been deeply unfair to the next generation, burdening them with trillions in new debt and leaving half of recent graduates jobless or underemployed.”
Obama’s rally here, among the loudest of recent stops, was not without incident. At one point a protester, behaving aggressively, attempted to shout down the president, and was quickly removed by security.
Without missing a beat, the president observed: “That man probably needed a good teacher.”
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