Conservatives ignoring school board races is a great loss

By Erik Seligman
School Board candidate who lost by 56 votes

The recent tea parties were an amaszing expression of energy and hope by the conservative movement, but I found them rather annoying. Not that I disagree with their philosophy and goals– far from it. But during the April-May time frame, there was an actual election campaign happening in Oregon. Conservative candidates were running for local positions such as fire and rescue district boards, water district boards, community college directors, and school board directors. We often criticize liberals for emphasizing symbolism over substance, but in this case conservatives were guilty of this sin: pouring all their energy into symbolic marches and protests, while actual candidates for positions that affect their daily lives needed their help.

I can’t begin to count the number of times during the campaign that Republicans or conservatives told me they thought these positions didn’t matter. “I don’t have kids in the school system currently.” “It’s just an administrative position.” “Only the legislators can do anything important.” But I strongly disagree. Electing local conservative candidates is important for a number of reasons:

Local boards control a lot of taxpayer money. Ultimately, if there is a choice of whether to spend lavishly, save for a rainy day, or return money to the taxpayers, who do you want making the decision?

Local boards negotiate contracts with unions. If there is no conservative candidate, often a former employee with a direct connection to the union ends up on the board, negotiating the contract. Do you think taxpayers get a good deal in such cases?

School boards permit or deny local charter schools. The charter school movement is an exciting opportunity to change the education system, affecting the next generation of Oregonians. But an anti-charter school board has lots of latitude to keep them out. * Local positions can be a launching point for political careers. To many voters, experience on a local board is a major asset for a state-level candidate. If we want more viable conservatives in legislative races, we need to start them at the local level.

Some might object that running a conservative candidate in liberal areas of Oregon is hopeless anyway, but as a candidate for the Hillsboro school board in the recent election, I have to disagree. On local issues, many “liberals” are more conservative than they realize. As I knocked on doors and spoke to my neighbors, I found that many shared my concerns, and by focusing on real issues like fiscal responsibility and charter schools, I was able to gain significant support. In the end, I lost by only 56 votes, out of over 9000 cast in the district. In neighboring districts, we had several Republican victories, including LeAnn Larson winning a seat on the Beaverton school board, and Gene Pitts getting elected to the PCC board of directors.

I hope that when the next election season arrives, conservatives take these lessons to heart. We need a conservative candidate for every position, active campaign volunteers for these local races, and most importantly, we need every conservative to vote in the election. This way we can truly harness the Tea Party spirit and use it to create real political change.