I’m busy with company, my Father-in-law is in town for the week. I’ll not campaign other than to blog a bit but I don’t want to shirk my hosting responsibilities while he remains with us. I haven’t decided whether I’ll campaign. A few weeks ago I was certain I wouldn’t. I began to have second thoughts about that a week ago or so. When Nancy Nilsen filed I had a reaction not dissimilar to the one I experienced the year I planned to retire from the School Board after eight years service. At the end of that year a noisy controversy broke out about taking the coaching duties away from East High school’s hockey coach. You don’t get much closer to the status of Pope in Northern Minnesota than by coaching a winning hockey team.
I kept getting calls from hockey fans (short for fanatics) who told me that if I didn’t vote to keep the coach they would defeat me in the next election – the one I had no interest in running for. I was damned if I was going to let folks think I was retiring because I was fearful of the hockey crowed. So, I filed for reelection. Then, when it was too late to take my name off the ballot, I realized that it was pretty stupid for me to run for another four-year term when the only reason I had for doing so was to prove I wasn’t afraid of the hockey crowd. I told a DNT Editorial Board that was eager to endorse me (for only the second time in 15 elections) that I only had one disagreement with my challenger and it was of little consequence. I added that I thought he’d make a good school board member. I wasn’t about to endorse him because he was part of the hockey crowd but I never spent a dime or campaigned. The Trib editors reluctantly endorsed the other guy.
I felt I had a good reason to step down. My interest was in putting more money into “programs” not facilities. We had every reason to believe that if we closed one of our three underutilized high schools we could save 1.2 million dollars and put it into the classroom. Since I had been stymied in doing this and saw no way to close a high school there was little point in staying on the Board.
That was as bad a call as I’ve ever made. Two years later a new Superintendent with an almost all-new school board decided to gamble $5 million operational dollars on new buildings every year to build the Red Plan. The Board members, including one of my current challengers, Nancy Nilsen, never seemed to understand this even though it was spelled out is the District’s building plan submitted to the State of Minnesota. I really don’t know if the Superintendent thought voters (denied a right to vote on the buildings) would fall head over heals in love with their new schools and then happily vote to raise taxes for more operational levies over and above the taxes taken for the $259 million building plan. It was the largest school building plan in state history by what was then the state’s fourth or fifth largest town. That was only an estimate. The Red Plan eventually swelled to $315 million.
So instead of saving money on facilities to pay for program our School Board robbed the program money to pay for facilities. It was Bass-Awkward priorities.
For my foreign visitors who read this because my blog has Lincoln in its title and know nothing of America’s local politics this blog is heavily larded with tales of our small city’s public school turmoils. I’m a bit obsessed about it and led the charge to win a vote on the project for four years. I’m still recovering aided with a healthy sense of humor. As I walked up the steps of the central administration building yesterday to file my heart began race as it does occasionally when I think about the damage the plan has inflicted on the District’s classrooms and the trust of voters who had every reason to expect a vote on the project. I sang Amazing Grace up the hallway to bring my heartbeat down. It worked. I sing to my Alzheimer’s afflicted Mother too. It keeps her alive.
From the conclusion of a 2010 post:
Tomorrow I visit my Mother in the Twin Cities to sing to her. I’ll take my packet of lyrics. I’m as popular for my singing at her Alzheimer’s unit as I am unpopular in some Duluth quarters among those afflicted with Red Plan dementia.
After fifteen campaigns for elected office, two terms on the School Board, a rousing fight against said Board and 25 years of sculpting snow on one of the City’s busiest streets I only have name identification problems with voters who have lived her just a few years. I’m a hero to some. To others I’m a heel. No one, however, can credibly say I didn’t warn the community about the disaster that would follow the “Red Plan,” or that I was wrong in my assessments, or that I am anything other than candid.
I’m not a cynic although this blog often appears to veer in that direction. I’m a near hopeless idealist. I have such a strong belief in voting that I believe folks have every right to vote stupidly if they choose. Its not unlike my firm belief in the First Amendment which led me to support giving a parade permit to a bunch of American Nazis in a Chicago suburb that was home to a large number of holocaust survivors. That was back in the 1970’s if memory serves.
I seem to have a loyal following on this blog. Even before the recent spate of foreign visitors it pulled in well over a thousand visitors each month. That has continued even at the same time that our local newspaper, blind to the dangers of the Red Plan, has seen its subscriber base plunge. My reemergence as a candidate has already seen a slight uptick in visitors. But there are far more than a thousand voters in Duluth. 2013 will be an off year election. Its possible that no more than 20% of the voting pubic will cast a ballot. If the District places an operational referendum on the ballot which could raise taxes I expect a lot of angry taxpayers will make an extra effort to vote to cast a No vote. They will remember my fight on their behalf and I would expect that to help my prospects. The supporters of the Red Plan are justly cowed and embarrassed. I doubt that many of them will speak up on behalf of the lone Red Plan supporter running for the at-large seat I’m aiming for.
They gave us elementary class sizes in the mid 30’s. When I served on the Board those numbers were in the mid 20’s. They gave us high school classes of 40-plus kids. When I was on the Board it was a rare high school class that had more than 33 or 34 kids in it.
I did lose my last school Board race to a Red Plan supporter. That was in the wealthier Eastern side of town before my skepticism of the Red Plan was born out and with a few Red Plan supporters pulling dirty tricks to derail me aided and abetted by a tabloid owned by the local newspaper.
The local DFL (Minnesota’s Democratic Party has the interesting historical name Democratic Farmer Labor Party) has already endorsed candidates without notifying all the candidates of the endorsement. That’s very typical, unfair, amoral and stupid and I generally like the local DFLers. I’ve been attending DFL precinct caucuses in recent years in the absence of a rational Republican Party. I have nothing against the candidates they endorsed. One, Annie Harala would be a good addition to the Duluth School Board.
I’ve already had one potential volunteer offer his services. I declined to tell him whether I would want or need them. As of this writing I’m inclined to ask him to be my campaign manager if he’s willing.
A delivery man came to the door late today and shook my hand. He told me he was very pleased I was running. My Father-in-law was more impressed with that than the story in the DNT this morning. I liked the story. I knew it made me look a little chatty but hell, look at this blog. I am verbose with a capital “V”. It soft pedaled my infamous perennial-ism as a candidate. There was no need to do that. I’m proud of being a Quixote when I’m defending the honor of voters and the virtue of honesty.
My wife, who will look away at every opportunity as this campaign proceeds said the folks she talked to today at her DSSO (Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra) Board meeting said I must be a glutton for punishment. I’m flattered that they think that. Its not true. I simply love a challenge. (I often sing Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” to my Mother.) But the challenge isn’t winning this election. Its mending Duluth’s public schools.