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John Larson, who took the OEA helm July 10, has a background of union advocacy with a bipartisan backdrop.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, sits outside the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.SALEM — John Larson has been involved in working bipartisan relationships since he was born.

Both schoolteachers, his mother was a Republican, and his father was a Democrat.

As the freshly minted president of the Oregon Education Association, Larson hopes to bring his bipartisan background to make the state's largest labor union more effective in building support for public education.

"We tend to be viewed as a liberal organization, but the reality is more than one-third of our members are conservatives," Larson said.

In his career as an English teacher and union representative in Eastern Oregon, Larson routinely worked across party lines. He worked in both the Morrow County School District and most recently, the Hermiston School District.

Larson, who is unaffiliated with any political party, plans to revive a plan for an OEA's Republican caucus, a group of conservative educators who want to advocate for public education.

"We are in the beginning stages but we firmly believe as Oregonians we all need to get on the same page," he said. "There is not a single member who doesn't believe public education is important. We have differences on how it should be funded, but there isn't anyone who doesn't think we should have public education."

Such inclusion may seem at odds with an association that most closely aligns with Democratic candidates and ballot measures. Larson sees the shift as following the mission of the association to do what is best for the students in public education.

As the son of schoolteachers in Montana, Larson grew up in a culture that values union ideals. His first stint as union representative came early in his career when he volunteered as a building representative for the Morrow County Education Association. He later served as president for the association for four years.

During his involvement in OEA, he has served as bargaining chair, president of the Hermiston Association of Teachers, the National Education Association Board director, NEA PAC captain, on resolution committees for NEA and OEA, and on the OEA Executive Committee.

He was elected as OEA president in April and started his four-year term July 10.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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