The Local Endorsements 2023
It should go without saying that I think you should vote in every election you can. The old saw about 'if you don't vote, then you don't get to complain' very much applies here, but doubly so in off-year elections. Some people online saw it as a harbinger of some kind of doom but the Louisiana Governor's race went down last week and you know what the turnout was? 35.8%
EIGHTEEN PERCENT OF THE VOTE.
I will be the first to tell y'all that I hate these parties with the heat of a thousand fiery suns. But if I must be stuck with them, I expect them to do useful things that benefit me and more importantly, I have a baseline expectation of competence for both of them, regardless of my personal leanings. A moribund and useless minority party does nothing for me. A feisty, pain-in-the-ass minority party that challenges the majority party and calls out their bullshit at every turn? Yes, please. That's my baseline expectation all day, every day.
It should be your baseline expectation too.
Off-year elections are easy to overlook and easy to forget about, but this year I am imploring you: don't. There's important shit at stake here, even if it doesn't feel like it. Iowa has joined the lamentable trend of nationalizing its school board elections, so even if you don't have kids in the system they're important. We're just starting our descent towards the Kansas-like fiscal ditch and the Governor has implemented a wildly fiscally irresponsible new voucher program. We're pulling books from school shelves because of a (purposefully) vague state law about sex acts in libraries. This is our first opportunity to say something about the new censorship and the wild fiscal irresponsibility.
You don't like the direction of the state? Sweet, me either. Don't doom spiral about Iowa's prospects in an internet comment thread, do something about it. VOTE.
(steps down off soapbox, slides it back under the table)
These were all easy choices. I watched the League of Women Voters School Board Candidate forum and Jacob Onken didn't bother to show up. Robert Decker was less than impressive and while Micah Broekemeier wasn't nearly as bad as I thought he would be (though he did make a weird statement with, to the best of my knowledge, no evidence to back it up that the school district was bordering on insolvency?) I do appreciate voices who want to emphasize industrial tech and other non-college paths for kids and in any other year, I might have given him some more consideration, but not this year. (To be fair to both Decker and Broekemeier, they also expressed concern and dismay at some of the books being pulled from schools under the new law passed by the state but they, along with all the other candidates, acknowledged that any change to this would have to come from the state level as the board, unfortunately, was bound by state law.)
On paper, I'm not opposed to the idea of school vouchers. To judge the efficacy of such a program, I think you have to measure how many students are using vouchers to change the school or school system they're currently attending. We won't get final numbers until December, but from everything I've seen and read so far, it sure seems that Iowa is following the pattern of every other state that's implemented this and these vouchers are benefiting the vast majority of students who attended private school already. That, to me, makes the program a failure. There is not nearly enough transparency on how this money is spent and while public schools have to take kids with IEPs, private schools are under no such requirements. I've got a kiddo with an IEP and another with a 504 and this is a no-brainer. I cannot support any candidates for school board who support vouchers. (It's also worth noting that for all the rhetoric about 'kids trapped in failing schools' I have yet to see a politician actually name a specific school in Iowa that's failing- but that's a whole other post!)
If there are some fiscal transparency rules implemented in the future and if proponents make a serious push to make sure it benefits students outside the existing private/charter environment and if there are requirements imposed for kids with IEPs, I might be more open to the notion of supporting pro-voucher candidates. But we all know that those are three gigantic 'ifs' that have little to no chance of actually happening.
Many of these candidates mentioned getting more Pre-K options with wrap-around childcare implemented within the school district and I was intrigued by that and some of them gave very thoughtful answers about teacher recruitment and retention for the school district. Eastham, Williams, and Abraham are current members of the board- I see no reason to change that and Lingo seems like a solid addition as well. If I have a concern with this slate of candidates, it might be that they seem a little too married to the status quo. After all, there is something to the notion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it- but in a rapidly changing educational environment within the state, some outside-the-box thinking might be required in the future and we will have to see then if they are up that task. I think they are.
Josh Moe gets the nod here for advocating to attract quality jobs. Here's the quote, direct from his website:
For 176 years the University of Iowas has been our economic engine. That is changing. The University of Iowa is not growing, UIHC is investing in Coralville and North Liberty, ACT continues to shrink, Pearson closed their Iowa City Facility, Kirkwood closed their Iowa City Campus, and Mercy Iowa City filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of August. Our City Council must attract employers that will provide great jobs to our diverse workforce- that includes both our highly educated health science workforce and our hard-working laborers.
Perfect! 10/10, no notes. To be fair, I don't think the City has been unaware of this problem, but it is nice to see a candidate for City Council openly advocating to do something about it. Whether Moe's advocacy bears fruit remains to be seen, but I like this. It's going to be a problem, so we should get ahead of it now, rather than struggle with it later.
Mazahir Salih gets the nod here because, well, she's been here before and I see no compelling reason not to send her back for another round on the City Council
I have no real objection to Pauline Taylor. I think she's flown under the radar a bit and has provided a voice of moderation and common sense these past few years that I appreciate. Her website is a bit thin, but she's got long-time ties to local labor and advocates for more affordable housing, increased green environmental practices, and 'ensuring there is a voice in Iowa City government for all people, not just a select few.'
I especially like that last sentence. Iowa City has a champagne liberal problem and unfortunately, if you tick the right boxes and say all the right progressive buzzwords you can go farther than you should-- that's not to say that diversity and some progressive politics aren't inevitable concerns here, but buzzwords often time translate to rhetoric and little in the way of concrete policies. (To be fair: the Right also has this problem.) Quiet, unassuming, sensible leadership is something I appreciate. Taylor gets my nod.
Mr. Dunn is running unopposed in District C which is not great, but his website is almost too comprehensive, but I always give bonus points to candidates who aren't afraid to go all in with information about who they are and what they stand for. If there's a mild critique here, it's that it sure seems that Mr. Dunn, who did take a run at the Iowa State House, might still have his eyes on Des Moines. If he can sharpen his local policy focus, I think he will do just fine on the City Council.
Merged Area X Trustees, Kirkwood
Doerge already serves on the Board of Trustees per the website and I have not heard of any reason to change that. I think these elections might bear closer examination in the future, as Kirkwood is shuttering their Iowa City campus, so stormy waters might be ahead here.