Raleigh wants to impose partisan elections on our school board
Published 8:38 am Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Polk County commissioners – all Republicans – two years ago mulled making school board elections partisan. But only if the public expressed approval in a referendum.
“We want the voice of the people to be heard,” Commissioner Andre Overholt said, according to the Tryon Daily Bulletin.
Ultimately, however, commissioners gave up the idea, deciding to leave things as they were. One of their concerns, the Bulletin reported, was “that a move to a partisan election for the school board would make it extremely difficult for registered unaffiliated voters to run for a seat.”
That’s an important consideration in Polk County where more than 6,400 registered voters, nearly 40 percent of the total, are unaffiliated. In partisan elections, they must complete a burdensome petition process to run for office.
In nonpartisan elections, voters often choose unaffiliated candidates. Just last year, Polk County voters re-elected Board of Education Chairman Mike Ashworth, who is unaffiliated. Our county is blessed with excellent public schools, and voters expressed satisfaction with the system’s governance.
Now, that could change dramatically. Suddenly, and without any public discussion here in Polk County, a “local” bill in the N.C. General Assembly would impose partisan elections on our school board beginning in 2024. House Bill 66, which originally applied to Catawba County, was amended in a Senate committee last week to include Polk County. It provides for no referendum and no allowance for “the voice of the people to be heard.”
This has nothing to do with the important job of guiding our public schools. Subjecting school board elections to partisan politics won’t enhance children’s education. It’s more likely to create the same kind of turmoil we see too often in other political bodies.
Proponents of partisan labels say they give voters more information about candidates. In Polk County, we already know the candidates. We go to church with them. They’re friends and neighbors. We do business with them. We don’t need to know their party affiliation when they run to serve on our school board.
The partisan politicians in Raleigh might think this is somehow good for Polk County, but – as our commissioners concluded – we should be the ones to decide that. Let’s urge our representative in Raleigh, Jake Johnson, to remove Polk County from this bill and leave this decision to us.