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My Turn: School Board doesn’t need party labels

By Mary James

Dear Messrs. Warren, Ford, Brock & McInnis:

This is a bit lengthy, but I’m trusting you’ll do me the courtesy of reading through it and responding. I’m a registered “Unaffiliated” Rowan County voter and a very concerned constituent of yours who stands firmly opposed to any effort on your parts to impose partisan elections on our local School Board, either by referendum (as in HB42) or mandate (as could be so provided in other legislation).

As perhaps you know, a resolution supporting HB42 was on the last School Board meeting agenda on Monday 2/27. After several of us spoke in opposition, with not a single person in support, the Board chose to take no action on the resolution. Nonetheless, members have indicated they will not ask you to withdraw the bill, so we know it remains very much alive. Opponents’ points include:

• Unnecessarily injecting more partisanship into an already incredibly poisonous, partisan, political atmosphere when a School Board should be focusing on kids and academic success where political ideology of any type should play no role;

• Our current Board consists of (according to my best assumptions) Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliates … a well-balanced mix that creates healthy dialogue and decision-making;

• Adding an R or D after a name in a heavily Republican county, where — c’mon, we all know — party folks these days blindly vote party line, will produce a totally one-sided Board; this is undemocratic (small “d”);

• Sure, some folks have an idea to which party a candidate belongs, but parties are already free to endorse any candidate of their choice, so why the need for an in-your-face party label?

• Partisan elections necessitate primaries that would reduce the candidate field to only one from each party, a limitation that hurts both voters and candidates; as to voters: they can take only their own party ballot, while Unaffiliates must choose one ballot or the other; voters might like someone who happens to be a Republican in one district and a Democrat in another but they would have no choice in that selection; as to candidates: good ones would be precluded from having a fair shot at garnering support in a general election because they would have been dumped out of the process at the primary level; federal employees would be precluded from running because federal law prohibits them from engaging in partisan politics (we had such a person serve who was actually a Republican); non-profit sector employees would be discouraged from running for fear of exposing political bias while working for a tax-exempt organization; unaffiliates would face the extra hurdle of having to gather thousands of signatures to run when partisan candidates just need to fork over five bucks to do so;

• A successful partisan candidate would have to spend time, money, and energy on two campaigns (primary and general election), while unsuccessful candidates would have wasted their efforts; nonpartisan elections would allow all candidates to put forth that effort once, in a general election; and here’s the thing: it’s not like 50 people run! last election we had but 8 candidates for 3 slots, no more than 3 per district; that is not too many for voters to digest and vet; let candidates run! let voters have choices!

• My final point is this: Since partisan elections have neither full School Board nor broad citizen support, why, in good conscience and the interest of fairness, would you force this on our county? Requiring a referendum (despite the benign characterization that it lets the people rather than politicians decide), or the more draconian option of mandating partisan elections without referendum, amount to nothing more than a transparent and divisive power grab, and a lamentably misguided diversion from focusing on the critical issues facing our schools, county, and state.

It may amuse you to know that I come from a long Republican tradition: my father was Bill Miller who ran for vice president with Barry Goldwater back in 1964 … but I am increasingly disappointed in what the party, particularly in my adopted state of North Carolina, has become. Thanks for weeding through all this (if you have!), and I look forward to your thoughts.

Mary Miller James lives in Salisbury.

My Turn submissions should be 500-700 words in length. Please email to letters@salisburypost.com with “My Turn” in the subject line. Include name, address, phone number and, if possible, a digital photo of the writer.

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