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If you are like me, you've been focussing on the Presidential election and are fully versed in the issues. Now with a little over a week left, if have looked up from my volunteer efforts on behalf of Obama to realize my Montgomery County (MoCo), Maryland ballot has several other races and numerous questions for which I am to vote. Follow me below the fold for my analysis of what should not be an obscure contest, but none-the-less is, the election to fill the now vacant at-large Board of Education (BoE)seat...

...It took me some time to actually find useful information about the general election candidates upon which to make an intelligent decision that didn't involve choosing the name at the top of the ballot. So I started by looking at the primary coverage.


There were five candidates to replace outgoing two term BoE member Sharon Cox in the non-partisan primary earlier this year. One was was endorsed by the Teachers Union (Alies Muskin), two others were teachers themselves (Carry Apple, Rob Seubert), the remaining two were long time PTA activists (Phil Kauffman, Tommy Le).

The factor that seemed to influence voters the most was name recognition for two candidates (Kauffman, Le) who had run, and lost in 2006 BoE races. Weather was also a factor, the number of volunteer teachers union members passing out apple ballots on election day was dramatically reduced, so the usual method for being informed about the race was absent. Additionally, some asserted that there is a benefit from being near the top of an alphabetically ordered ballot.

The voters were asked to pick no more than two candidates and the final tally was...

Kauffman 55,575(33.4%) WON
Le 41,101(24.7%) WON
Muskin 29,822(17.9%)
Apple 29,204(17.6%)
Seubert 10,569(6.4%)


Like the primary, any coverage or info on the candidates or their positions is not easy to come by but there is useful stuff on the web if you look close enough. My initial search for each candidates positions lead me initial to the League of Women Voters voters guide(warning pdf). Upon reading their relatively brief statements, it was difficult to draw distinctions or plumb the depths of their platforms, so I entered a series of tubes, and have amassed below my finding for each candidate.

Phil Kauffman (website) of Olney, MD was educated as a lawyer and works as a Deputy Assistant General Counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has been active in Montgomery County PTA affairs for 13 years and is a founding member of the Northeast Montgomery Political Action Committee which has sponsored BoE forums in the past. Kauffman's wife is a MCPS teacher and their two adult offspring have gone through Montgomery County schools. Kauffman ran for district 5 board of elections in 2006, where he lost to Nancy Navarro by a margin of 63%-37%.

The main plank of Kauffman's platform seems to be Middle School Curriculum reform. He notes that many advances have been made in MoCo early childhood education that are in danger of being lost during the transition to High School, where he wants to improve High School Aptitude (HSA) testing. Kauffman believes improved middle school curriculum will increase HSA scores. Kauffman supports the teachers union negotiated contract because MoCo schools must keep up with nearby counties to recruit and retain high quality instructors. Kauffman would like to end social promotion. Kauffman believes comprehensive sex education which cover homosexuality and contraception are important.

Phil Kauffman has been endorsed by the The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, Montgomery County Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel, Montgomery County Education Association, Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union Local 500 (SEIU, MCPS service workers), Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association (MCPSRA), most of the counties delegation of state legislators in Anapolis, 7 former members of MoCo BoE, primary contender Alies Muskin and several members of the County Council.

Tommy Le (website, not current) of Silver Spring, MD has a doctorate in Engineer Sciences and is currently works as a senior project manager at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He was active in MoCo PTA for 15 years and both his offspring have graduated from MoCo Public Schools. Le ran for another BoE at-large position in 2006 but lost to Shirley Brandman 63%-37%. In 2004, Le also ran for this at-large BoE seat against Sharon Cox and lost 70%-30%. He also ran in 2002, garnering 5.4% of the vote in a 6 person primary race.

I'm not sure what the main palnk of Tommy Le's current platform is because he seems to be keeping a deliberately low profile. Le seems to support No Child Left Behind as he would have MoCoPS reformulate K-12 cirriculum to conform to State and Federal standards in order to improve testing scores. According to Le, this reformulated curriculum should also serve as moral education so that children can know the difference between "good and evil" and avoid dangerous behaviors associated with drugs and alcohol. Le also emphasized vocational-technical education for those seeking jobs straight out of High School. Having not obtained the local teachers union endorsement, Le no longer supports their negotaited agreement and calls them the "Montgomery County Extortion Association". Le believes  homosexuality and contraceptive use should not be part of MoCo public school health education.

Le seems to have avoided seeking high profile endorsements this cycle, with the exception of MCEA, which turned him down and now enjoys his ire. Previously, Le was endorsed by the MoCo Family Values Alliance and Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.


Vote for Phil Kauffman. He has sound ideas for curriculum reform and expresses solid progressive ideas. He is endorsed by all the relevant unions. He has current experience with the school system.

Vote against Tommy Le. He expresses a mish-mash of ideas that have the smell of conservative culture war. His only endorsements are from fringe conservative groups that aren't even recent. His participation in the PTA seems to have ended a decade ago.

Note: If there is sufficient interest, I'll add more links to corraborate the claims made in this diary.

Originally posted to Enterik on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 01:57 PM PDT.


Who are you going to vote for?

70%85 votes
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Comment Preferences

  •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Naturegal, Enterik

    got my sample ballot the other day and was wondering who to vote for

  •  MontCo resident here... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Naturegal, Enterik

    Thank you very, very much for this.

    I admit I flunk the civics test on my BoE. My kid is grown, I work ungodly hours and I spend every free second consumed with national politics. It's just not a priority and that's just not an excuse.

    So when I walk in the booth, I sadly leave a few slots blank because I simply don't have a clue about my options.

    •  If I have any influence... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Eyewitness Muse might not need to leave any blank. Which race or question do you think I should tackle in my next diary?

      •  I'm generally up on the... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ballot initiatives. It seems like we always have some (Ficker?) inspired spending proposals that would hamstring the county's budget process. I don't care a bit for those.

        But it's the judicial races that usually trip me up most. I know nothing of their philosophies and would rather not vote than simply vote for the prettiest name.

        Thanks again for your efforts, never dreamed I'd find good info about my county on a national message board.

        •  Isn't that what dailykos is about :-) (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Eyewitness Muse

          More better progressives? I know most people focus on the national races, but there are thematic threads like listening to the locals. Just imagine if we could use the distributed organizing power of motivated kos denizens to protect local school boards from regressive candidates (like Tommy Le)?

          And yes, county ballot question B was basically pushed by Robin Ficker...

          ...I'll see what I can find about the judges.

  •  Good to have this info (0+ / 0-)

    This was one of those races where I had to go to the Net to find out more about the people.

    Refuge Watch -- news from America's national wildlife refuges

    by Naturegal on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 02:16:43 PM PDT

    •  I hate that feeling... (0+ / 0-)

      ...I've had to do it before and if I'm doing it, I hope others are doing it too. Seriously the only thing worse than a crap shoot is an uninformed vote.

      And since I give just about everyone I know crap for making wildly uninformed votes, I'd feel like a hypocrite if I didn't bring my A-game and help them along.

  •  I graduated from the Montgomery County Schools (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks for the update. I attended Pleasant View Elementary, Weller Road Elementary, Belt Jr. High School, Sligo Jr. High School and finally Springbrook High School in Montgomery County.

    The "Monkey County" schools (yes, that's we what we called the County then) that I attended were still overcoming the ill effects of school segregation. Today's Montgomery County schools appear to be far more diverse and hopefully less insular and hidebound then the ones I remember.

    I did have some good teachers who encouraged me to read and think for myself. My congrats to their diligence in developing my intellectual curiosity when I was often tried to suppress it in order to "fit in".

    "Don't believe everything you think."

    by BobboSphere on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 02:32:18 PM PDT

    •  People still use that term... (0+ / 0-)

      ...whereas I, a naturalized citizen, use the cooler, trendier MoCo :-P

      I'm just starting out in the School thing here in MoCo. First step, winning the lottery so our son can get into the Chinese immersion program.

  •  Thanks! I'm fowarding this to my family.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    all in Bethesda... I'm long gone, unfortunately.

  •  Thanks for this (0+ / 0-)

    I usually vote for the ones the Post endorses.  I think the BOE races are among the most important we get to vote on and I always feel inadequately informed about them.  I would rather that the BOE members were appointed rather than elected, but that train left the station long ago.

  •  Boundary Studies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    One of the things I have a problem with is that the two choices really aren't choices when it comes to the Boundary Study issue. As Montgomery County shifts and changes constantly, boundaries seem to remain the same. Unless a small group of uppity PTA parents decide they don't like their assigned school and petition to have a Boundary Study conducted, nothing appears to be proactively examined.

    I think that in an area like the DC Metropolitan area which is ever-changing, any Board Of Education that fails to proactively reexamine every few years (even on a rotational basis) the boundaries that exist is negligent.

    To my knowledge, neither Phil Kauffman nor Tommy Le (that I know of because no one is talking about it) support boundary evaluations. Does anyone have info on this topic?

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