The struggle for the public’s right to elect members of the Harford County Board of Education ended happily a few weeks ago when Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill to allow for a blended board with 3 appointed members and 6 members elected in-district. The first school board elections will be held for Districts A, B and D in 2010, followed by Districts C, E and F in 2014. The next step will be to urge good candidates to run and for citizens to exercise their hard-won right to vote.
Which calls to mind what Benjamin Franklin said after the Constitutional Convention, when he was asked whether the new American government would be a monarchy or a republic: “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”
Despite having used the quote as the title of a few stories, I didn’t fully appreciate what Franklin was driving at until I looked back on some of the desperate tactics used by a few election opponents to maintain their stranglehold on the power to select school board members. For me, understanding how difficult the quest for elections had become drove home the need to keep power in the hands of the people by protecting and exercising the right to vote.
Surprising, how that warning from 1787 still applies in ye olde Harford County over 200 years later.
Having learned first hand that power is not easily relinquished; I hereby nominate myself for the “Duh” Award for the failure to anticipate the obvious.
While we’re at it, there are a few people who deserve awards for making school board elections a reality, at least from my perspective as an advocate and a close observer of the process.
And the nominees are…
Senator Barry Glassman, for the “Winston Churchill, Never, Never, Never, Never Give In Award” for his sustained effort to bring school board elections to Harford County. Glassman’s leadership and tireless support as both a delegate and a senator laid the groundwork for passage this year. Along with Senator Andy Harris, he ultimately worked out a bill that twice won unanimous support in the State Senate. Honorable Mention goes to Councilman Dick Slutzky, who could not directly effect state legislation, but who offered valuable testimony and stalwart support.
Delegate Susan McComas, for “Outstanding Valor in the Trenches”. Not to take anything away from the rest of the delegation, whose unanimous support was key to the bill’s passage, McComas went toe-to-toe with the opposition on the House side and won. Last year, McComas met sometimes daily demands in order to keep the legislation viable and near the end of session called out House Ways & Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson on a rule violation, thereby exacting a price for Hixson’s mysterious stonewalling and sending a message that Harford County would not go down without a fight. This year, McComas and Glassman successfully used a potential referendum on a fully elected board to help garner Delegate Mary-Dulany James’ support for the blended bill. Anyone who might now be trying to discredit McComas’ leadership, better look elsewhere for an example – she was a champ on this one.
Delegate Pat McDonough, for the “Emperor’s New Clothes Award” for saying what plenty of others were thinking. McDonough memorably said that talking about the (past) failure of the school board bill without talking about Delegate Mary-Dulany James, was like talking about the Titanic without mentioning the iceberg. Under suspicion of killing the blended bill last year and facing a possible referendum for a fully elected board in the 2010 election year, Delegate James supported the blended bill this time around and it passed. Go figure.
Councilman Dion Guthrie, for the “Peace Through Strength Award”. Not only was his outspoken and unwavering advocacy for school board elections invaluable, his muscular support spoiled the plans of some opponents who were itching to reduce this issue to a partisan slugfest. Guthrie, along with Delegate Dan Riley, stood up for their constituents the way it ought to be done on both sides of the aisle.
Feel free to nominate your own candidates for your own made-up awards.
I’ll end by thanking all of the above, along with all the members of the Harford County Delegation, the Harford County Senators, the Harford County Council, Harford County Executive David Craig, the Edgewood Community Council, the Fallston Community Council, Harford County Board of Education Members Hess, Merrell and Smilko (yes, for ratcheting down their opposition), numerous Harford County PTAs and the Southampton MS PTO. Please forgive me if I’ve left out any other organization.
And last but not least, thanks to all the people who signed a petition, wrote a letter, sent an email, made a phone call, testified, or otherwise supported the cause. Whatever assistance there may have been from our elected leaders to enact this legislation, school board elections would not be coming to Harford County without a clear message coming directly from “we, the people.”