Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Here’s the Context

Two minutes. Two minutes that made me uncomfortable.Stuck in my brain since February 29th.

Episode 88 of the Elevate Maryland podcast, beginning at around eight minutes, thirty seconds in. Co-host Tom Coale takes a stab at the dynamics of the upcoming Board of Education race. It begins, “...and here’s the context that I’m thinking about: the Howard County Board of Education race.” It concludes, “....they’re going to eat that lunch; it’s going to be served to them” at ten minutes thirty seconds. It’s two minutes.

Episode 88 Elevate Maryland  (8:30 - 10:30)

The gist of what is said is this: while local Democrats are reticent to act, the Republican Party is actively supporting candidates for the Board of Education.

When I first heard this segment this it troubled me. There’s an edge to Coale’s voice that could be anger or frustration. And, to be honest, I’m very likely the sort of person that he is angry or frustrated with. I sincerely want the Board of Education race to be non-partisan.

On the other hand, this year’s redistricting war has left a mark. It runs through the county like a gash, an unhealed wound. For a number of candidates, opposing redistricting is almost their only issue. While we have Republicans, Democrats, and Independents running, it has seemed to me that, if there were divisions, they fell more along the lines of where the candidates stood during redistricting.

And then I came across a discussion online which challenged my way of thinking. In a group devoted largely to the opposition of redistricting, a member laid out a plan to change the direction of the board entirely. It went like this:

1. Analyze candidates in every race.
2. Donate money to and campaign for the ones who espouse our goals.

And, to make sure readers understood, the speaker made it clear that no one who was “Blue” would be acceptable, and no one who was on good terms with the County Executive, either. This particular speaker was not an outlier. Their message was understood and well-received.

That, my friends, is partisan politics.

What I found the most troubling was the aim to control outcomes in races where members of this group do not reside. My friends who eat politics for breakfast will find me naive. I hadn’t anticipated this and I guess I should have. This is clearly strategic thinking: make a plan, work your plan, achieve desired domination. Control Board votes, control future policy.

The reason I supported the election of Board members by District was to make it easier for candidates from the less affluent parts of the county to get elected. These areas of the county have long been woefully under-represented on the Board. Since they would only need the funds and organization to mount a campaign in a finite area, non-traditional candidates might have a decent chance at running a successful race.

The idea that those candidates might be facing an influx of cash and/or campaign workers from outside of their district had not occurred to me. While it may not be illegal,  it clearly circumvents the entire reason that advocates worked so hard to have the law changed in Annapolis. The purpose was to give each area of the county a better shot at representation on the board.

In the past, more money generally meant a better chance of winning. So most, if not all, board members came from the more affluent parts of the county.

But now, if one faction is determined to play a “winner take all” game, and that faction contains some of the most affluent county residents, then isn’t well-to-do Howard County reaching right over the new boundaries and making a mockery of them?

Social media has been abuzz over the last 24 hours with the announcement by the Howard County Republican Club of their preferred/endorsed candidates in the Board of Education race. As a response to this (partisan) action it looks as though the Columbia Democratic Club has countered with a list of candidates that they feel comfortable asking their members to consider. (Notice the difference in tone, one that confirms what Tom Coale says about “reticence” in the face of partisan politicking.)

For me, it isn’t political affiliation bursting on the scene that concerns me. Candidates have different points of view;  their goal is to connect with like-minded voters. I don’t begrudge community members in another part of the county electing the candidate they feel best represents their values.

I absolutely and most whole heartedly object to those people trying to use their money and influence to steer the outcome of who will represent me. Or anyone else who doesn’t live where they live.

Perhaps when you are really angry and convinced that you have “Right” on your side then you think it’s fine to use any means to reach your end, even putting your thumb on the scale. So you work to circumvent the spirit of the law. Because power is more important than principle.

Here’s the context: there are some people out there who aren’t content merely to make their own choices. They’d like to make everybody’s choices. Keep an eye out for people like that. A board of education that is elected to fit the desires of the few is going to be a very bad fit when it comes to meeting the needs of all the children in Howard County.

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