Eric Hartman of Texas AFT, Paragon of Good Sense and Great Union Activism, Retires

In the inside baseball of the labor movement's legislative advocacy in Texas, Eric Hartman of the Texas American Federation of Teachers has been an ace pitcher and All-Star.

Texas AFT reports Hartman, the union's legislative director for more than two decades, has retired.

I could lengthen the previous sentence by saying "for more than two decades of banging his head against the walls of the Texas Capitol," but even though progress on public education is painful and incremental, Hartman's pounding of the rock has helped create major cracks in a right-wing strategy of starving public schools, declaring them to be below standard and seeking to privatize them.

As much as anyone, Hartman has framed the legislative argument that schoolchildren are our state's most precious resource and public schools the foremost vehicle to a better future. Whether making the large points or engaging in the minutiae of rolling good bills up the steep hill or arraying weaponry against bad bills, Hartman has set the highest possible standard in his work.

Hartman has fiercely advocated for teachers and others who work in our public school system. He has helped lead a heroic stand against private school vouchers, which have been thwarted in our state, so far, based on their many demerits. He has served as a one-man think tank in finding well-researched ways to point up the inferiority of charter schools that claim they know better when the overwhelming weight of data suggests they don't. He remains an indispensable cog in the successful effort - to date - to stop legislation that would take away the freedom of public employees to choose to have their own labor organizations dues deducted directly from their paychecks.

Hartman has not merely persuaded lawmakers all these years but has mentored generations of United Labor Legislative Committee lobbyists.

Along those lines, Texas AFL-CIO Lead Organizer Kara Sheehan said, "I know Eric Hartman as one of the most dedicated members of the labor movement. I look up to him for his vast knowledge, but also his leadership style. He is one that wanted to leave the labor movement better for the next generation - one that always supported the development and growth of new leaders. To that end, on his way out, Eric and other leaders of Texas AFT contributed to the Texas Young Active Labor Leaders through their Solidarity Fund...."

Hartman is the first person I turn to when I need interpretation on the complexities of public school legislation in Texas. He is the house grammarian, human spell-check, crafter of effective communications and, in many contexts, arbiter of good judgment for our movement's legislative and political strategies.

Hartman's service to the Texas AFL-CIO does not end with his status as an icon at ULLCO. Hartman has served with distinction on the Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board and has participated in labor advocacy that is not necessarily tied to his work at Texas AFT.

I have personally looked up to Eric as a model for how to do my work. He has made all of us better, with the added benefit of kindness and the waging of friendship.

So I'm going to lobby in this case for the "How can I miss you if you won't go away" style of retirement. Not long ago, we had the great fortune of celebrating the 100th birthday of Eric's father in the Becky Moeller Auditorium; we later celebrated his late Dad's life in the same location. The fortunate genes that led to such longevity suggest Eric likely has plenty left to do and lots of time to do it. We hope some of that activity will be in our building.

Texas AFT Communications Director Rob D'Amico posted a piece on Eric's electronic newsletter, which began some 14 years ago. From that article:

The number of subscribers has waxed and waned over the years and is about 40,000 now. The loyal readership also now is a healthy mix of school employees, politicians, legislative staff, and journalists. What hasn't changed is the dedication of Eric to write a piece every weekday (and on some weekends) with only a rare day here and there missed when he reluctantly would call me and say, "I'm out of gas. No Hotline today." (If you ever wondered why the Hotline arrives late at night sometimes, it's often because Eric was still laboring away after sunset to get it done.)

I'm not quite sure how many Hotlines he has written, but my best estimate is about 5,000 through email, with likely thousands more in the phone days. (About half of them can be found on our site now, and we're working on a better Web archive for the first half from an old site.)

Today Eric Hartman is retiring after more than 23 years here. We'll have more to say soon about the amazing work he has done over the years at Texas AFT helping deal with the good, the bad and the ugly at the Capitol. But for now, here's a hearty thanks to the man that has diligently kept us in the know each day.

Yes, the Hotline will continue. But Eric was a master at grammar, unlike the few of us now tasked to try and fill his shoes. So bear with us and let us know if you spot any boo-boos, and we'll try to keep Eric's "baby" going strong! You can email us at [email protected].