Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Statement on the Board of Education Race

Candidate Robert Miller posted this to his campaign Facebook page last evening. I am sharing it with his permission. (Headings are editorial, added for ease of reading--jam)




For those who may not be aware, since Saturday there has been much said on social media about some of the candidates for the Howard County Board of Education. Placement of campaign signs appears to be the spark that set off the firestorm that has included discussion about the appropriateness of linking candidates in the non-partisan Board of Education race to political parties, about what can be assumed about candidates regarding how they will perform in office based on who their political party supports for president, about the extrapolation of candidates’ views based on party platforms, etc. I would like to go on record regarding some of these issues and the people involved, though I do not want to “name names” as I feel I can make my points in generalities and without drawing attention to some individuals and not others.

Though I don’t know any of the candidates very well, I feel that I have gotten to know the “challengers” well enough to say that I have not found any of them “disturbing”. Quite the opposite… I feel that they are great candidates and great people, individually and as a group. I have much respect for each of them.

For readers who feel my posts tends to be verbose (understandably), please feel free to stop reading here, as you have the gist of my message, and as I feel some verbosity coming on…

1. Diverse backgrounds and views

Though I feel that everyone is either trying to do what they think is right or would otherwise admit to using poor judgment, I think that some contributors should look at the recent posts in the light of a topic that has often been discussed on educationally-related social media: diversity. It struck me how essentially everyone states that our students should respect people with diverse backgrounds and views, yet some adults are not walking their talk. Accusations have been made and conclusions have been drawn about candidates based largely on conjecture (whose sign was near whose, which part of a statement was used in a newspaper article, etc.). If people wish to make their decisions based on that sort of thing, they have that right, but with the difficulty voters have in getting sufficient accurate information about candidates to make their decisions, we should focus our attentions on providing that; in this way, we can best help our democracy function optimally. Some voters may want to base their decisions on factors that have little to do with party platforms, and other voters may want to base their decisions largely on factors that do; I can see legitimacy to both of these perspectives based on what each voter perceives as important. Every voter has a right to make this decision, and that right should be universally respected; people may disagree, but those disagreements should be respectful of each person’s right to make his/her own decisions. Meanwhile, I think it is safe to say that all voters want to base their decisions on accurate information. I have often thought of politics as being a lot like sports. There is a big difference, though; what happens in politics can have a big effect on a lot of people’s lives in very profound ways, so we need to respect the system and each other, and refrain from propagating rumors and conjecture. It can be challenging when everyone is not playing by these rules, but if we all try to follow them ourselves and point out when others aren’t, I think the results will be much more positive.

2. The Rights of Candidates and Voters

Each candidate has the right to determine what information they would like to be public or private. Each voter has the right to determine if they feel they are being provided the information they want and base their voting accordingly. I have been asked questions that first struck me as overly personal for a non-partisan Board of Education race, but when I understood why that voter wanted to know, I decided to provide the information; to me, it is not my view of the relevancy that is important, it is the voters’ view. On the other hand, I respect the rights of other candidates to keep that information private; it is a personal choice, and some voters may respect that and others may not. I see that as part of how the system works. Furthermore, I know that if people have a problem with something that I’ve said or done or wants to know how I feel about a topic, I would like them to contact me directly. They can decide for themselves whether or not they agree with me or even believe me, but I’d appreciate the opportunity to communicate directly with the hope of being understood accurately.

3. Savage Fest Events

Shortly after I arrived Saturday at Savage Fest, I spoke with someone at the Democrats’ booth asking if I would like to bring signs and fliers. I did not have signs with me, so I went home and got some. Though I believe the race should be non-partisan, I don’t have a problem with a party supporting me at the level of displaying my literature; in fact, I was pleased that they asked. Frankly, I would have been happy if someone from the Republicans’ booth asked me to do the same, and I would have been happy to put signs and literature at their booth. As it is a non-partisan race, in retrospect I am disappointed that I did not make time to go to their booth that day. I feel that voters who care have a right to know that I am a Democrat. Meanwhile, I know many wonderful people who are Republicans, and though they may hold some views that are different from mine, I can still understand and respect their points of view and try to work for solutions to problems that provide good outcomes for everyone as much as possible. Again, this is another example of respect for diversity. I have not heard any of the other candidates indicate that they would not like support from both parties, either. I should also mention that one of my signs was later moved by someone other than myself to a more prominent place; I just mention this to point out that conclusions should not be drawn due to sign placement proximity.

4. An Excellent Group of Challengers

I feel honored to be one of what I feel is an excellent group of challengers in this race. Each of us has different backgrounds, experiences, and views (though I think our views are more alike than different in most, though not all, areas). I think there is much reason for optimism. In my case, I bring a perspective as a former HCPSS teacher and parent (shameless plug), while others bring perspectives from being a parent, an accountant, an educator in another county, a government worker, a social media activist, as well as many other backgrounds that could be helpful as a board member. Voters will have to choose candidates based on these various backgrounds, as well as the views (stated and extrapolated), personalities, and other characteristics of the candidates. This is a tall order. Many voters take this responsibility very seriously. Others arrive at the polls having given no thought to the Board of Education race. I imagine that we would agree that our system works best when all voters make their decisions based on quality information, and it is our obligation to respect our voters and enable that to occur.

5. What is Best for our Students and Community

The playing field is already not level. In my case, my lack of political experience was not helpful to me during the endorsement process, as I understand it was something that was considered. Question to ponder… in a non-partisan race, is support from a political party much different from support from a PAC? This is another area where I could see how intelligent people could disagree. Ultimately, though, while voters can consider what the parties and PACs have to say, it is also the voters’ responsibility to look beyond parties and PACs and choose who they think will be the best board members. I think the reason the Board of Education race is non-partisan is as much for the sitting board members as for the candidates… we don’t want our board members making decisions based on approval from a party or a PAC, we want them making decisions based on what is best for our students and community. Parties and PACs have a right to express their support, but it should be emphasized that the race is non-partisan, and each voter has the responsibility to choose their candidates based on knowledge, not rumor and conjecture. For the best outcomes, we should endeavor to make the playing field as level as possible, and presenting facts and avoiding rumor and conjecture can be done by everyone, including parties and PACs. As a general statement, it would be disingenuous to decry a lack of integrity and transparency on the board yet not act or speak with integrity and transparency with regard to the candidates, so we should be on guard against this.

6. This Can All Be Done Respectfully

We should be respectful to all involved. No one is getting rich from being on the board. I think it is reasonable to think that all involved are trying to do what they think is right, and that includes the outgoing board members, even if we do not agree with their actions or perspectives. Some, myself included, may “lose perspective” and do things that are wrong, and it is fair and ultimately helpful to point that out. It is also fair to point out differences of opinions, as that might also help to inform voters and candidates and lead to productive outcomes. In due time, voters can express their opinions at the polls. This can all be done respectfully, with the understanding that reasonable people can disagree.

7. Predictors of Effectiveness

Most of the important work done by the Board of Education is not overtly political. It may have political overtones, but past history seems to indicate that an individual’s characteristics are better predictors of effectiveness on the board than political party affiliation. With the prevailing national political atmosphere, I believe that we should keep this in mind.

8. Taking the High Road

The candidates themselves are not mudslinging, even with what’s been happening. Pretty cool.

9. A Sign of Things to Come

Being involved in this race has been an awesome experience. I have met and communicated with a tremendous number of amazing people, including all of the candidates. It hurts me personally when people are not treated well; it is often not hard to put myself in their shoes, whether referring to another candidate, sitting board member, or contributor to a Facebook post. I hope we all want to and will keep our communications above board (no pun intended), factual, constructive, and respectful. It would be a wonderful sign (sorry) of things to come. Thank you for your consideration.


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