A Facebook ad from my opponent showed up in my feed today. It said this:
Rather than waving the solo banner of irrational knee jerk reactions, it’s time to focus the conversation on now. Now is the time! Not next year.
Since my campaign announcement, I’ve been asked what I want to accomplish in my first 100 days of office. Well, that’s a long ways away. If I was in office right now, my focus would be on adopting new policies for right now rather than thinking about next year.
I have to respectfully disagree with my opponent here.
Thinking ahead, anticipating what's coming and preparing for it, is fundamental to governing seriously in the public's name. So is understanding the past and learning from it. So is recognizing immediate challenges and acting to address them today.
In short, serious elected officials don't get to choose the past, the present, or the future. All are relevant to everyone. All come at you at the same time. You don't get to opt out of any of them. You can't hide from any of them if you want to actually do your job. "Next year" is always part of your job.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it should be that. The public's need and work does not conform to your preferred timeline and convenience.
My opponent doesn't seem to understand that. And that may relate to his reason for running, which I find is all too commonplace in would-be politicians. As stated in the story that Lakeland Now ran about his campaign announcement, my opponent "said he wants to sit on the School Board as a next logical progression in life." (In fairness, that's the reporter's paraphrase, not a direct quote. But there's been no correction. So I'm going to assume that's accurate.)
"Next progression in life" is a bad reason to run for office.
The Polk County School Board belongs to the public. It is not about personal validation or resume building. It's not about anyone's personal progression. It should begin and end with governance of the public's school system and the progression of the lives of the people who elect us and who we serve. You don't have to share my vision, which aims to bring about a revolution of humanity from the ashes of Florida's dead, fraudulent test-obsessed model. But you should have some vision -- of some kind -- for what you want to do for the people you're asking to progress you into power. And you should be willing to test that vision against others so the public can choose wisely.
That's the essence of political competition in a democracy.
You can't have vision without looking ahead
I believe the public expects me to think very hard about the future. And I have. Indeed, I was thinking about the future back on Feb. 25, when I first urged the superintendent to begin thinking hard about coronavirus. On Feb. 27, I sent this note:
Japan just closed all schools nationwide for a month. There's no good reason to expect that we won't get to a point like that. The politics/public agitation will probably demand it. Maybe we're lucky enough to get to the summer.
People are going to start asking us. I'd recommend treating this like a hurricane in our thinking and having a good statement ready about the structure of our collaboration with the state/health department, i.e., who is our point person, liaison with other agencies. What if any monitoring steps we're taking; if there's anything we're asking the public to do. Keeping everybody calm will be important. And one way to do that is project that we're planning for it as a contingency -- even if there isn't all that much we can do. If and when schools might need to be closed, who makes that decision (us, the state, etc.)
I know you gave me a little note a couple days ago. But I think we need to be more a little more detailed in the structure. If we can give people a sense of structure, we'll be helping in what might be a chaotic time to come. And helping keep them from overreacting.
Within a few days of that, I was publicly agitating to close the physical schools, a decision that was resisted at the local and state level. The state reluctantly recommended closing late on a Friday afternoon -- after resisting all day. We could very well have stayed in a school another day or two had I not thought ahead and fought for the appropriate action. Perhaps thinking ahead helped save lives. It's impossible to know for certain; but I did my job by projecting ahead as best I could and acting on what I saw.
Next year matters now -- desperately
Polk County voters will choose between me and my opponent on August 18. By that time, we will be eight days into the 2020-21 school year. That's less than four months away.
No one has a clear idea of what that school year will look like. Our current budget ends on June 30. We don't know what the virus will allow us to do; and we don't know the funding picture, although it will be bleak if the Federal Reserve does not create a PPP for Schools bailout plan. States stand to lose $500 billion in tax revenue because of the pandemic/economic collapse. That's a crippling, existential amount of money.
Even distance learning is expensive to sustain. Kids who are getting by because their favorite teacher is available to them online could lose that. Employees who have education jobs and lifelines in COVID American today may not have jobs and lifelines on August 18 if we don't fight for them between now and then. That's what at stake. Now.
No would-be board member gets to opt out of that moral crisis because it's inconvenient.
And forcing people into compulsory education -- or creating a voluntary hybrid alternative model -- at physical schools during even a curve-flattened pandemic is quite a difficult order to give and enforce. The state, which wants to subvert School Board authority when it's easy to inflict pain from a distance, seems entirely unwilling to take responsibility or blame for whatever form "reopening" schools eventually takes. You can expect them to devolve the hard choices to local boards to avoid blame. It's what they do.
My opponent seems to think he can wish these extraordinarily difficult questions away by pretending they do not exist and are unnecessary to address until some ill-defined point in the future. It's true, if voters choose him in August, he won't take office until November. So maybe he thinks that gets him off the hook for thinking about it because I'll be there to govern for him. That's not just a mistake; it's deeply irresponsible.
By contrast, I've already thought a lot about all of this and shared my thinking with you. I'd urge you to take a look at this article, for instance. And win or lose, you can always rely on me to put your "progression" first and never lose sight of the full demands of governing until the day I walk out of my last meeting.