No. 2: Marie Blistan

Education Power 50

The New Jersey Education Association is a potent political force in New Jersey — perhaps unmatched in power among labor groups — and has been for decades. As president of the state’s largest teachers union, Blistan channels that power from offices directly across the street from the Statehouse in Trenton.

While that power is not unlimited — the union notably failed an effort to defeat Senate President Steve Sweeney at the ballot box a few years ago — the NJEA cannot be ignored both because of its total membership of just over 200,000 and its financial clout. For example, the union is one of the main backers of New Direction New Jersey, a nonprofit organization established to support Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda.

If anyone needed evidence of the NJEA’s influence, it came in early September. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin introduced a bill to rework the state’s health benefit system for public school teachers. The bill — which is unlikely to get anywhere in the legislature despite backing from Murphy — was endorsed by the NJEA and stands as a rebuke to Sweeney’s own reform proposal.

While Coughlin and Sweeney have generally remained on the same page when it comes to budget issues, the teachers’ union managed to pry open some space between the two leaders.

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