As a local activist, I have decent sources to find out what is going on behind the scenes in the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race. I am sad to report that, as a result of our current election laws and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the race, the District 9 BOE seat is becoming an appointed seat.
This is how the unfortunate change unfolded:
- In the 2013 legislative session, a law was passed that added several appointed members to the Prince George’s County Board of Education. In addition, the County Executive was given the power to appoint the replacement for any elected BOE member who resigns before his/her term expires.
- In September 2013, District 9 BOE member Donna Hathaway-Beck resigned.
- In December 2013, County Executive Rushern Baker appointed Sonya Williams to the District 9 BOE seat.
- In the June 2014 primary election, the local incumbent politicians’ party loyalty dictates that they and their candidate slate endorse Baker’s appointee and include her on their “sample ballot.”
- The candidate endorsed by the local slate cruises to an unavoidable victory in the June primary and November general election.
In all reality, the voters of District 9 will have no meaningful say in the election of our BOE member. The selection was made by one person, County Executive Baker. For all intents and purposes, the District 9 BOE seat is an appointed position at this time.
Important note: My take on this situation is in no way a criticism of the appointed District 9 BOE member, Sonya Williams. I know her, I like her, and as a PTA activist I work with her. In fact, I believe County Executive Baker made an excellent choice in appointing her to the BOE. My only beef is with the obvious shortcomings of our system of “elections.” As I have stated before, I am not taking sides in the District 9 BOE primary.
I got to tangle with two State Delegates—James Proctor (District 27) and Jay Walker (District 26)—about candidate slates and sample ballots at a townhall meeting in Accokeek last night. I made my points about the impact of slates and their sample ballots on lower ballot races. You can read my view on those things here and here, for example.
Not surprisingly, the incumbent delegates had little sympathy for my point of view. Delegate Proctor says he and his fellow incumbents carefully vet the candidates they endorse. He acknowledges that the slate endorsements have a significant impact on the races, and he is proud of what they do and how they do it. Delegate Walker stated that he feels many of the lower ballot races, such as Board of Education elections, are very important and he thinks he has to weigh in on them. At the end of the day, the incumbents’ rationale boils down to this: They feel they have the right and the responsibility to make endorsements.
My take on the issue is: Due to Maryland’s law allowing candidate slates and the tradition on sample ballot advertisements, these candidate endorsements are not mere endorsements—they are super-endorsements. In low-budget lower ballot races, well-funded slate advertisements tilt the playing field heavily toward the endorsed candidate. It would be very different if the incumbent’s endorsement meant that the candidate in the lower ballot race could issue a press release touting the endorsement, insert a joint picture of the two in a campaign brochure that the lower ballot candidate has paid himself/herself, and the two could hold joint campaign events. In other states, that is what an endorsement looks like.
I have no problem with incumbent politicians making endorsements in other political races. They have every right to do that. But, I feel the super-endorsements allowed by Maryland’s election laws run completely counter to our democratic values and the one-person-one-vote principle.
The week before Christmas, County Executive Rushern Baker finally appointed a Board of Education representative to the vacant District 9 seat. As some people may still remember, Donna Hathaway Beck resigned from the BOE in early September.
Baker’s pick is Sonya Williams of Clinton. She is the PTSA president at Gwynn Park High School. I don’t know her personally, but I have heard good things about her.
Of course, the District 9 seat is on the ballot this year. This means that Mrs. Williams will need to enter the June 2014 primary if she wants to retain her BOE seat. I have not heard if Mrs. Williams intends to run, but I have to assume that Baker picked a person who is interested in doing so. Taking more than three months to pick a person and then having her in the seat for less than a year would not make sense.
With all this, the June primary for the District 9 BOE seat will likely be an interesting one. Who else will get in the race? If Mrs. Williams does run, will she be the candidate endorsed by the Senator Miller/Delegate Proctor/Councilman Franklin slate? If Mrs. Williams runs but the incumbent slate’s endorsement goes to someone else, who will prevail?
No matter what happens, I will stick with my September prediction. The endorsement of the incumbent slate is the most significant factor in the primary. Whoever wins that “race” will prevail in June.
Last night I attended a Prince George’s County District 9 community meeting with the school system’s new CEO Kevin Maxwell. The meeting was organized by District 9 Councilman Mel Franklin. The purpose of the meeting was for us residents to share our concerns with Dr. Maxwell and pose questions to him.
Lucky for me, all three of our key local incumbent politicians were present at the meeting: Councilman Franklin, State Senate President Mike Miller, and Delegate James Proctor. Since the topic of the meeting was education, I took the opportunity to ask the politicians about next year’s race for District 9 Board of Education seat. I pointed out that if their slate endorses a candidate and includes him/her on their “sample ballot,” that person is more or less guaranteed to win the BOE race. I asked if they would commit to not endorsing anyone in the BOE race and letting us voters choose the winning candidate.
Without any hesitation or further explanation, Councilman Franklin said that he will be endorsing a candidate. Both Senator Miller and Delegate Proctor nodded in agreement without bothering to elaborate on their stance.
Needless to say, I am very disappointed in my elected officials on this matter. But, of course, I am not surprised. Not at all.
I want to be the first person to call the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race that will take place in the 2014 election cycle. I thought I would have some time to make this prediction, but the surprising announcement from Donna Hathaway-Beck that she is resigning from her seat effective September 6, 2013 forced my hand. I want to get my prediction out before County Executive Baker announces his pick to fill Mrs. Hathaway-Beck’s remaining term.
Naturally, the resignation of Mrs. Hathaway-Beck has the potential to influence the race to replace her. I had heard from reliable sources that she was not going to run again, so I was expecting there would be an open seat for us District 9 voters to fill in the 2014 election. With an open seat, none of the potential candidates would have the benefits of incumbency̶—which are always significant. Now with the resignation, this dynamic can change. Whoever is appointed by the County Executive to the seat until the election will have at least some of the benefits of an incumbent. Of course, we don’t know if the person appointed to the seat will actually run in the 2014 election, but it is certainly possible.
Despite this new twist in the coming District 9 BOE race, I am very comfortable making my prediction: The person elected in 2014 will be the person who is endorsed by the slate consisting of our local incumbent officeholders (Senator Mike Miller, Delegate James Proctor, Councilman Mel Franklin, and possibly others). We don’t know the name of the person at this time, but we will surely know it before the June primary election.
This prediction also leads to my practical advice to anyone considering a run for the District 9 BOE seat. Don’t worry too much about putting together a formidable election campaign. Your time and effort will be much better spent trying to curry favor with the local incumbents.