Drawing the ire of Democrats, First Lady Michelle Obama will attend a Houston fundraiser on November 1, at the home of a former Enron executive. John Arnold, billionaire and former Enron trader, is part of an organization pushing to convert public pensions — including teachers, police, firefighters and others — to 401(k)-style plans.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, called the 401(k) proposal "very frightening for teachers." She noted the nose dive many retirement plans took in the stock market in 2008, saying, "What if I was retired and that happened?"
"My people supported Obama big-time in 2008," Fallon said. "This is not helping."
President Obama has made support for teachers a centerpiece of his push for the American Jobs Act. He also has the support of the National Education Association.
The pension battle also is happening in Texas, although it's not clear that Arnold is involved or helping to finance it. The Texans for Public Pension Reform want a constitutional amendment eliminating public pensions in the state in favor of a new system — like a 401(k), according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Meanwhile, Arnold's support for the California pension campaign has Houston Democrats questioning why the Obama camp would risk such an alliance.
The Obama campaign told Politico that Arnold is a supporter and said the Nov. 1 fundraiser, where tickets start at $10,000, is still set to take place.
Art Pronin, a Houston Democratic activist, said, "This just got my dander up."
"Does Obama support converting teacher pensions to 401(k)'s? I doubt it," said Pronin, president of his neighborhood Democratic club. "This is creating a lot of consternation in Democratic circles, and it's going to make it that much harder to get the vote out next year politically."
Local activists, including the Houston chapter of Occupy Wall Street, are considering some kind of protest of the first lady's event. Meanwhile, the local teachers' union is working to educate members about the pension campaign.
"We need street action that will make Wisconsin look like a picnic," Fallon said.
Why do you think the first lady would risk the association?