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
GENERAL ELECTION ANALYSIS:
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.