Friday, October 21, 2011

W. enters my wife’s schoolboard race

(Credit: AP/Courtesy of the author)

W. enters my wife’s schoolboard race
Our family gets a close-up look of how big money has taken over politics -- even at the local level
By David Sirota
Oct 21, 2011

Before it happens, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel when you see a slickly produced, oil-CEO-financed flier implicitly attacking your 11-month-old baby for not being old enough to attend school and explicitly criticizing your family for not being able to afford a home...

Six months ago, when my wife, Emily, decided to run for a school board seat here in Southeast Denver, I was (perhaps naively) expecting what we used to get from the most local of local races for such part-time, unpaid positions: lots of door knocking, a few yard signs, maybe a barbecue or two...

Emily knew it would be a tough race against her opponent, a deep-pocketed investment banker, but she felt confident she could run a solid campaign. She thought her experience as a social worker and community organizer in Denver gave her the tools to mount a good ground game, and she felt that her longtime policy work at the federal, state and local level was a good match for the school-board job. She also has deep roots in the community; her campaign has been endorsed by the district’s state representative and city councilors, by the city auditor, and by the key legislators who serve in the state’s senior education policymaking positions.

...Emily had thought a “big” contribution meant a few friends joining up to scrape together $500. But, in the last few weeks, news broke that oil CEOs and financial executives were cutting $10,000 and $25,000 checks to her opponent. We found out that notorious front groups like Stand for Children were funneling in tens of thousands of dollars of out-of-state financial industry cash, and we started hearing about serious threats of retribution from big-time professional politicians.

...In the process, this little grass-roots school-board race has become so inundated by big money and national political forces that none other than former President George W. Bush just made an education-themed appearance – one clearly designed to influence the education debate dominating the upcoming school board election.

At the local level, there are often no campaign contribution limits at all, so the rich are free to dump enormous sums of money into elections.

(Here in Denver, for instance, EdNewsColorado reports that “one quartet of donors gave a combined $92,000 each to the same three candidates, all of whom have been endorsed by the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and by Stand for Children” — two front groups funded by the financial industry.)

[Maura Larkins comment: Regarding Democrats for Education Reform, I would like to say that it's nice that some Democrats are willing to stand up to the teachers union. Stand for Children, however, sounds like they are just knee-jerk corporate types.]

As NBC’s local affiliate 9 News noted in reporting on a coordinated Republican Party attempt to buy school board races all over the state, “Once thought to be ‘mom and pop,’ [school board] elections have now turned into coordinated, professional campaigns.”

...In one row, it contrasts my wife and her opponent based on the “number of children [each has] in Denver Public schools.” (My wife’s opponent: “3 daughters, 15 years and counting”; my wife: “0.”) And I can tell her that voters will realize that this particular comparison is grossly unfair, because it suggests that our son not being old enough to attend school is somehow a personal failing.

...I know that whether she wins or loses, the real damage has already been done.

When the same elites who fund federal elections start pouring unfathomable sums of money into our community’s school board races, it robs us of the last promise of democracy: the hope that while wealth and power dictate federal and state policy, every person can still have a small impact on his or her own local community.

...It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that the only elections that matter are celebritized presidential and Senate contests, and that local elections for your school board or town council or county commission don’t count. Clearly, that’s not the case. The most powerful people of all sure think those local races do matter...

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