Thursday, February 09, 2017

Resisting DeVos-- The 2017-18 School-Board Elections


-by Alice Marshall

In order for DeVos to carry out her plan to destroy public education she has to have thousands of collaborators. Therefore we must act to deprive her of collaborators. School boards and state legislatures are the first fields to be worked. (I prefer agricultural metaphors to sports and war metaphors, because agricultural metaphors emphasize the cumulative effect of grassroots political action.)

We need to elect school board members who are entirely committed to public education and reject the failed model of charter schools and privatization. Unfortunately, even at this late date there are Democrats who support charter schools. (Fortunately not a single Democrat in the Senate backed Trump's nomination of DeVos, not even long-time charter school advocate Cory Booker.) We need to replace them with candidates who are committed to public education. DeVos will use all the considerable levers of power the Department of Education offers to coerce local officials to go along with her train wreck schemes, so we need to elect candidates who are ready for a fight.

School board races are usually non-partisan; that is political parties do not field candidates but do make endorsements, which comes to the same thing. If you are a member of your local Democratic committee, and you live in a jurisdiction which is having a school board race, NOW is the time to question potential candidates about their commitment to public education and their opposition to charter schools. NOW is the time to examine their records to judge whether their promises match up with their past actions.

It is important to keep in mind that school board elections are very low turnout affairs. On the one hand this means that low income voters are unlikely to vote in school board elections. On the other hand it means that local activists can make a disproportionate impact on an election. The 1999 Hunter Mill Board of Supervisor's race in Fairfax County is a perfect illustration of this. In 1999 Cathy Hudgins, an African American Democrat, challenged Bob Dix, the white Republican incumbent. The Hunter Mill district (Vienna, Reston, and Herndon, Virginia) is overwhelmingly white, there are just a few black precincts, and a few precincts that are majority immigrant. There were no state wide races in 1999, so there was very little press coverage and very little awareness about the race. Dix raised $320,000, Hudgins succeeded in raising only $80,000. Yet Hudgins won. How? By recruiting a team of volunteers who knocked on every door in Democratic precincts and succeeded in identifying those Democrats who lived in Republican precincts and turning them out to vote. Hudgins also benefited from a voter registration project that targeted all the low rent garden apartment complexes in the district. In this sort of race, just registering and additional hundred Democratic voters across such a district is the difference between victory and defeat.

This illustrates the tremendous power of precinct captains in a low turnout election. The power to shift just a handful of voters is the difference between victory and defeat. You don't need much money. All you need is a decent walking list, conscientious volunteers, and campaign literature to hand out.

Winning the school board races THIS year will have an out-sized impact on the 2018 elections. We can demonstrate that charter schools and privatization are politically radioactive. We can also change expectations about which congressional districts are “winnable.” If the charter schools candidates go down in flames, progressive congressional candidates running in those districts will have an easier time attracting donations and volunteers.

33 states have jurisdictions with school board elections coming up. Of these, 26 are also electing governors-- Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Cororado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin). If we are to stop voter suppression we need to elect governors who will protect voting rights. Trump, Pence, Bannon, Ryan and the Republican party have made it clear that voter suppression is their preferred tool to cling to power. If we are to protect voters, we must do it at the state level.

Campaigning for progressive school board candidates will have a synergistic effect of bumping up the vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Usually, the top of the ticket leads the other candidates. But from  a precinct captain's point of view it is the other way around. Someone supporting a Democratic gubernatorial candidate might or might not know who to support for school board, but anyone sufficiently informed to have an opinion about school board will almost certainly vote in the governor's race. Pushing up from the bottom of the ticket is an extremely effective tactic to drive up the vote for the entire ticket.

My book, The Precinct Captain's Guide To Political Victory, is chock full of ideas how to push up the vote in these low turnout election. Buy it at the DownWithTyranny online bookstore.

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At 1:12 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

This happened in New Mexico hopefully this will spread everywhere.

At 2:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She seems to take her new job as a joke:

I hope she will get the education she deserves.


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