Mike Matthews, the president of the Delaware teachers union, is known for his strident opinions.
Elected to a three-year term of what many consider Delaware’s most powerful and influential labor organization, Matthews never hesitates to advocate on Twitter for educators.
He calls for higher pay and criticizes charter schools and standardized testing. He weighs in on local and national political matters, recently opposing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
But before he began teaching fifth graders in the Red Clay Consolidated School District about a decade ago, Matthews was an irreverent blogger.
Some of those older blog posts, especially about women and minorities, were recently discovered and shared with WHYY. Questions are being raised in Delaware education and political circles, where some are calling the comments sexist and racist. The posts reviewed by WHYY contain graphic descriptions readers might find offensive.
The blog was called Down with Absolutes. Matthews took it down in 2009, but later joked that he hoped he had “provided a service in some kinky way.”
Did Matthews take it too far?
In one post from February 2006, he called then-Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner a “Butch Bitch.” He wondered whether a video of “chocolate, caramel and vanilla brothas” gang-raping Minner would boost her poll numbers. Minner could not be reached for comment.
Several posts were dedicated to then-House Minority Whip Helene Keeley, whom he called “delectable” and “gorgeous” with a “come hither” look. He wrote about her “hot feminist booty” and quipped: “Come see me. I’ll have you begging to take my last name.”
He called state Rep. Melanie George Smith “uber-hot” and wondered what she would be wearing to Legislative Hall.
Matthews also wrote in October 2005 that “blowing all the Muslims up” perhaps isn’t such a bad idea. He suggested a child molester was justified if his wife was a “stank-ugly ho.”
In a post from September 2005 about a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina being relocated to the Wilmington area on the same block as four sex offenders, Matthews showed no empathy to the mother, writing: “If sacrificing one of her children to a sex offender is the cost, then her bitching is totally unwarrented (sic).”
Those blog posts and other inflammatory ones cannot be found with an online search. But a source in Delaware education circles found some posts on a searchable archive site called waybackmachine and provided several posts to WHYY.
WHYY is protecting the source’s identity because the person fears retaliation or being ostracized by Delaware education officials, policymakers, and advocates in Delaware. WHYY verified the authenticity of the posts and found several others of a harsh nature.
When contacted by WHYY about the posts this week, Matthews said he and union leaders heard old posts were circulating. While he wondered about “the motivation” of WHYY’s source, he sounded contrite, saying he was sorry. He blamed his offensive commentary on a youthful desire to be outrageous.
“I would apologize to anyone not just for being offended, but for the words I said,” Matthews said. “Looking back in hindsight they were the words of a 22-year-old man finding his way in the world, looking for an audience. Age is not an excuse and I take full ownership for that … I like to think that I’ve evolved over the years in the way that I’ve developed as a professional.”
Elected in 2017 by a 119-vote margin, Matthews’ three-year term ends in 2020. He is eligible to seek re-election.
The teachers union, however, began its own investigation of Matthews’ old posts Tuesday after being contacted about them by WHYY. Executive Director Jeff Taschner called the matter a “serious” situation and said the union’s executive board of more than two dozen state and county representatives will be convening Wednesday night to weigh “next steps.”
Taschner said he couldn’t predict what the board would do, but he said members have the power to remove Matthews from office.
‘Overt misogyny toward women’
Matthews’ blog rantings infuriated Meghan Wallace, who runs Mary Ann’s List, a PAC that backs pro-choice women candidates. Wallace said they must galling to members of the Delaware State Education Association. About 75 percent of the 13,000 members are women.
“I’m frustrated and I’m disgusted and I’m angry,” she said, “because I think it’s incredibly disappointing that someone would be put in a position of power, who has openly made these sorts of remarks — not in person, but that he has literally published them online for people to read.
“The ones I’ve seen specifically are overt misogyny toward women and almost remarking in a way that is in jest around sexual violence about women leaders in Delaware.”
It wasn’t only Delaware’s female politicians about whom Matthews made questionable comments.
He wrote of loving conservative author Ann Coulter in a “sorta bind-her-and-gag-her kinda way.”
He asked if readers wanted to see hot “pre-menopausal” pics of actress Betty White.
One headline declared that U.S. Senate hopeful Jan Ting, the son of Chinese immigrants, would “fry your wonton.”
Atnreakn Alleyne, who runs an educational nonprofit that helps K-12 students of color, said Matthews shouldn’t get a pass on his past remarks, especially in the #MeToo era. Alleyne said Matthews often acts “self-righteous” and calls out others for statements he disagrees with, so he deserves similar treatment.
“Someone can chalk it up to ‘Well, I was just being young and silly,’ but I think that is what we’re seeing in movements across this country, pushing back on this type of language and rhetoric,” Alleyne said.
“This type of language treats women as if all that matters is their looks and body. To be leading the teachers union in Delaware where the overwhelming majority of teachers are women, I just think that’s hypocrisy at the highest level.”
Keeley, who is not seeking re-election after 11 two-year terms in the House, said Matthews grew up in her district and she met him while campaigning in the 1990s. She said she had previously heard about comments he made about her on Down with Absolutes, but didn’t take them too seriously because she knows he is gay. Although he made several sexual comments about women, Matthews is married to a man.
“I’m more offended about what he said about our former governor as opposed to what he said about me,” Keeley said. “I don’t want to say I can handle it, but I knew he wasn’t meaning that toward me.”
Wallace said union members should give serious consideration to whether they want Matthews to keep his job.
“It’s kind of on all of us to elevate these sorts of stories so we can have conversations about it,” Wallace said. “It’s playing out on the national stage right now with Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. There’s going to have to be a discussion in Delaware about what we accept in the background of people we put in positions of power.”
Alleyne believes many union members will be appalled by what Mathews wrote.
“I think that’s a conversation for them to wrestle with, but what I would say is that we are in a time where people are being held accountable for their actions and words, specifically around gender,” Alleyne said.
“It’s a teachers population that has minorities in it. It’s a teachers union that is predominantly women. Do they want the face of their organization to be someone who has made these claims and made these statements?”
Matthews said he hopes members and the education community would forgive him for his indiscretions.
“I cannot defend it,” he said.
“I would be welcome to having conversations with those members who may have concerns about my ability to lead the organization,” Matthews said.
“But my belief remains that I think my leadership on education matters and the fact that I have not written or behaved in the way that came before, I think hopefully that that will show folks that I am worthy of their support so I can continue to do the work in Dover and throughout the state that they have come to expect of me.”