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Partisan Rowan-Salisbury School Board bill clears N.C. House

Proposed bill

State Rep. Harry Warren

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Local school board elections moved one step closer to explicit partisanship on Monday night when the N.C. House passed a bill crafted by Rep. Harry Warren, R-77.

Warren’s bill would put a question on ballots asking voters whether they prefer a partisan school board race. Candidates would face a primary process and be listed on ballots by their political affiliation in a partisan race. The Rowan-Salisbury School Board race is currently nonpartisan.

State Rep. Carl Ford, R-76, is a co-sponsor of the bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support. Now, it needs to clear the Senate.

If the state legislature passes Warren’s bill, voters would likely decide in 2018 whether to switch to a partisan school board race. If approved, party affiliations would then be listed on ballots starting in 2020.

Warren said on Tuesday that members of the House expressed support for his bill because it asks voters to approve partisan elections rather than immediate implementation.

If voters approve the switch, Warren said he doesn’t believe unaffiliated candidates will have a more difficult time winning school board elections.

“It puts the onus on them to prove they have sufficient support to be a viable candidate,” he said.

Warren mentioned the 2014 county commissioners race as an example for a future school board content. In the 214 race, three unaffiliated candidates secured enough signatures to be placed on the general election ballot. Of the three, former commissioner Raymond Coltrain came closest to securing a seat on the county board in 2014, receiving 103 fewer votes than Judy Klusman.

Ford also said unaffiliated candidates would not face a more difficult time.

“The partisan candidates will work and spend to win a primary and unaffiliated candidates will work and spend getting signatures,” Ford said.

Warren said partisan labels give voters a better understanding of how a candidate might act once in office. When people serve in an elected position after winning a nonpartisan race, Warren said, they do not abandon their partisan leanings.

“What they stand for and what they believe in is part of their personality and being and it will influence the way they make decisions,” Warren said.

Responding to news of the bill’s passage through the N.C. House, Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy criticized the bill.

“The proposed referendum to make the school board elections partisan is unnecessary and making the election partisan would politicize the board even more,” Hoy said. “The education of children and youth should be the main focus, not partisan politics.”

He said a partisan school board race would make things more difficult for unaffiliated candidates.

Members of the Rowan-Salisbury School Board have debated changing to a partisan election but never formally endorsed Warren’s bill.

If approved by the Senate and voters, the specific statement on Rowan County ballots in 2018 would be the following: “Candidates for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to be elected as candidates who are affiliated with a political party, thereby changing the election method of the members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education from nonpartisan to partisan, beginning in 2020, with all current members completing their terms of office.”

Voters would be asked to check a box for or against the statement.

Asked on Tuesday, Warren and Ford both expressed optimism the bill would pass the Senate.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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