Our democracy withstood an attempted coup last Jan. 6, but the planning hasn’t stopped — it is only moving a little slower.
It has become insurrection in slow motion. But the goal is still the same: Total control of the presidency, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even though no significant fraud was ever found, former President Donald Trump and his supporters still use a rallying cry of “stop the steal,” suggesting that the election was stolen by President Joe Biden, rather than Trump’s attempt to steal the election. The process has already started with attempts by conservatives to take over power on school boards and city councils, followed by state Legislatures.
Nationally, Trump supporters are trying to politicize not wearing masks and creating political pressure by asking people to oppose getting vaccinated, or oppose booster shots, even though the experts tell us that is the most effective way to fight the coronavirus.
In Republican-controlled states such as Texas, there is an effort to change the voting rules to help Republican candidates and undermine those who might vote Democratic by limiting mail-in voting and requiring identification for in-person voting.
Washington is the perfect state to help understand why the hurdles are unnecessary. Voting is a right. It should be easy to vote, not difficult. And it has been for several years. Many Democrats work in hourly paid jobs where the employer may not give them time off to vote. So they must vote in the evening, and by waiting in those long lines we saw last year in many Midwest states, going out to vote could expose them or their family to the virus.
In at least five Republican-led states, another questionable tactic is the misuse of power for awarding extended unemployment benefits to those who have lost jobs over vaccine mandates. Workers who quit or are fired for cause, including violating company policy, are generally not eligible for benefits — yet Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have passed rules to get around those requirements. Many companies require their employees to get vaccinated for safety reasons. Four of those states also cut benefits to millions of workers over the summer. But now it helps make a political statement and build support.
Most school boards and city councils have elections in local years, which were just completed in 2021. But 2022 is a state year when state Legislatures and Congressional members are up for election. The Washington Association of School Administrators is also concerned about the politicization of school boards and has the organization paying attention. One person quoted in a media publication recalled Christian coalitions from the 1970s and 1980s pushing school boards to teach creationism rather than evolution. Many school boards and city councils are now back meeting in person after using Zoom to meet virtually for the last year. Most are still requiring masks to be worn when the public testifies. If several residents start using their time to demand that no masks be worn, or that vaccinations for teachers and students become optional, then you need to pay closer attention because that isn’t an accident. Somebody is organizing that effort. Especially if the public starts to use political pressure with phrases such as “we are telling you what we want in our community.”
While this is happening nationwide, Washington state is also a target. We have already seen examples of school boards and city councils divided in some Eastern Washington communities, and other communities in Western Washington could be headed for controversy. When candidates you wouldn’t expect to run suddenly become candidates and have an outpouring of support for public office, that is something to watch, particularly if they are promising parents more control of the classroom, or that a city council candidate can make the county change its policy (they don’t have that authority).
The county has its own council to worry about, but you should pay attention because the same promise is likely being made to other groups. With candidates who promise to represent the “people,” you need to ask “which people?” Do they truly represent you and the community? Have they ever held public office before? Do they have a public record you can look at? Have they been active in support of schools or have they served on a city board? That’s how they get experience.
Do they understand they are part of a board, and exhibit a willingness to work with other board members? Do they follow previously agreed upon rules, or the Open Public Meetings Act?
In one school district, political mailers claimed the district was in the lowest one-third of Washington schools, according to a privately owned school ranking site. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction records student assessments for all districts, but does not rank them. In racially diversified districts, which include most of South King County, for many students English is their second language. And all the richest zip codes are in East King County. Who is endorsing them? Is it a group that will divide the community?
Some candidates said they want to abolish critical race theory even though it was not part of what was being taught. This suggests not only a lack of homework, but a bias the community should know about. And there may be special interest groups who support school choice, which could result in state money going to private schools, or schools sponsored by religious groups.
The national media has reported nationwide trends of conservatives using mask vaccine mandates and critical race theory to win nonpartisan school board seats. Some candidates try and get around disclosure requirements by becoming “mini-filers.” It is easy to claim that a decision you disagreed with lacked transparency. A candidate who accuses a school board of a lack of transparency needs to be held accountable. Did the board have a good reason for their decision, or was it part of a policy?
Good superintendents are professionals at their jobs, as are city managers, and both are hard to find. If your school board or city council gets maneuvered into some of these political issues, your superintendent or city manager may look for another job. The Washington Association of School Administrators has been tracking the average tenure of the 295 school districts in the state. Over the last five years, the average tenure has dropped from 5.2 years to 3.9 as of 2021. In addition to the superintendents association, other associations such as the National League of Cities and the Association of Washington Cities are good resources.
The pandemic has put more pressure on superintendents and school boards. Each year, school boards and city councils meet to establish a legislative agenda prior to the legislative session. Then they schedule meetings with their district legislators. This is where residents need to pay close attention because this can lead unsuspecting legislators into supporting goals that may be politically motivated.
The message is to pay attention in 2022 because more may be going on behind the scenes in preparation for 2024 than you think — because what your school board and city council do is important, and others may not have the good intentions you have.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.