Since declaring a candidacy to run for a trustee seat at St. Clair County Community College, the cliché that “The job’s not done until the paperwork is” has come to mind.
The efficient county clerks have sent me copies of sample ballots; I’ve checked and re-checked them for name accuracy. All is good. What I’ve also noticed is that school board candidates, trustees, and judicial candidates all are on the non-partisan side, placed at the end of a ballot. Back in July, when establishing an election committee with the county clerk, the non-partisan or partisan positions are shown. Voters won’t find trustee, school board, or judicial candidate on the partisan side of the ballot, and that’s as it should be.
I’d like to think that more than an affiliation with a party, non-partisan candidates are judged just as much if not more so by the content of their character than their affiliation with any party. If such candidates were to run with the symbol of a political party, a voter might rightly guess some leanings, biases, and stances that come out of a party system.
School board members, trustees, and judges in particular need to orient their decisions to and with the stakeholders of a school, a school’s mission, or the concept of blind justice. Partisan biases have no foundation when providing a quality educational experience or fairness in our courts. Trustees, board members and judicial candidates need to conduct business free of partisanship in an increasingly partisan world. It is not and will not be easy.
I recall a student I had at the college, a very polite young man, “Josh,” who had moved here from Tennessee. I say polite because any time he asked a question or chatted with me, he would always say, “sir.” This young man, born and bred in Tennessee, had political views that were a bit different than those often found in our Michigan classrooms. Over the course of a semester, we discovered a mutual fascination with the Civil War, and shared articles about that conflict. However, to Josh, it wasn’t a Civil War from 1860 to 1865; it was “the war of Northern aggression.” Josh was consistent in this view, and argued for it, a perspective I found fascinating.
I mention this because I could not, as this young man’s professor, allow this bias to affect our student-teacher relationship. I was not there to judge his politics; nor was he in an English composition class to judge mine. We got along fine, overall. He learned English composition, and I re-learned – one of many such moments for this retired English teacher – about different perspectives.
Trustees need that non-biased stance as well, so I find it puzzling that some non-partisan candidates are wrapping themselves unabashedly in the flags and colors of one party. What might this partisan stance mean for fairness, equality of treatment and opportunity, as well as observing the college’s mission statement and using that as the key reference for action? Granted, associating one’s non-partisan position with a partisan candidate is a political ploy, meant to garner votes, but it also could shut out at least 50% of the electorate who do not share those points of view.
We all have our own personal political views, and I’d share mine with anyone, but that personal political view is just that – personal. The hard work of a trustee or school board member needs to transcend personal biases. Abraham Lincoln, generally recognized as our greatest President, knew a crucial difference between the political and the personal when he formed his cabinet. He chose three fellow Republicans for key positions, all of whom ran against him to be the Republican nominee for president. Having different points of view vigorously expressed in his Cabinet allowed Lincoln to sharpen his decisions, having heard objections and vigorous debate. But his decisions were most likely based more on consensus and not the personal biases of the president, the executive “trustee” of the country.
Certain positions in government are non-partisan for the best of reasons. For non-partisan candidates to give into the partisan tendencies of the moment is dangerous and not in the long-term interests of justice, education, and the electorate. I’m glad to run for college trustee on the non-partisan ballot. In a hyper-partisan atmosphere, the heat of rhetoric needs to be turned down a bit and replaced with wisdom and light; doing so will help show us better ways.