“All politics is local,” as the late Democrat Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tipp” O’Neill once famously noted, and this past week’s local and state elections proved his observation to be correct, and most likely, long lasting.
Political observers were confounded by the overarching conservative tenor of voters as they turned out or threatened normally safe Democrat candidates during what is considered a quiet political campaign period. Now these pundits are parsing the results to determine the influence that national issues and personas such as President Biden and past President Trump had on the voters.
What is missing in this analysis is the role that local issues, particularly debates concerning education, played in the ultimate voting outcome.
Jennifer Hudson, Newport, penned a letter to the editor in Wednesday’ News-Times which asked “Where was the parental involvement?” Ms. Hudson’s contention is that parents have been absent or unconcerned about what she describes as “liberal indoctrination of our kids,” but she also notes that a renewed concern is “evolving pretty quickly.”
The letter writer’s concern and observations are accurate. There has been a trust placed on government institutions and agencies such as the public schools and their elected overseers. But as another famous politician, President Ronald Reagan, admonished, “trust but verify.” Until recently it has been the verification process that has suffered.
Over the years, as school systems have been enlarged, the complexities and costs have increased which has resulted in parents entrusting the day-to-day operations to “professionals.” Subsequently there has been a growing separation between parents and the educational environment which resulted in parents being told not to interfere.
One North Carolina teacher went so far as telling parents to not observe their students who were participating in remote classes in their homes during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The other most recent instance was Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s Democrat gubernatorial candidate who stated that parents should not tell schools what to teach.
The forced quarantine of public school students during the past year and a half has pulled the covers back on what and how students have been taught and in the process reignited parental interest in education. At the same time this has raised concerns about other government agencies that heretofore have benefited from taxpayer and voter’s benign neglect.
The proposed curriculum changes related to the state’s new social studies curriculum hardly gained any notice until the topic of “Critical Race Theory” was debated. Suddenly, parent and policy makers took notice. Then the concerns about mask and quarantine requirements associated with Covid-19 pandemic created impassioned debates.
The capstone of this new found concern about local issues came as a result of a Loudoun County, Va. parent challenging the county’s school board about the lack of action and concern regarding the assault on his daughter by a self-identified transgender student who was allowed the use of the girl’s bathroom.
The parent of the assault victim complained to an obviously unconcerned school board and superintendent who, it has been proven, lied about knowing anything about the assault. Following the board meeting during which the parent complained, the father was being described by U.S. Department of Justice officials as a potential “domestic terrorist.”
This event, along with the dismissive attitude of the local school board and government officials, set off a firestorm among parents in Loudon County. The result was a shocking victory for the Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and other Republican contenders in a state and region that is considered comfortably liberal with a strong Democrat base, particularly in Loudoun County.
The Loudoun County case, along with the complaints of parents in local school boards across the country related to curriculum standards, pandemic mandates and a growing concern about the educational progress of their students, is renewing interest among parents who are also taxpayers and most importantly – voters. This focus on local issues is just beginning.
Interest in the activities of the previously mundane management of the schools is also now filtering into the responsibilities of municipal and county management. Attentiveness to the actions of local governance is both necessary and long overdue. The end result will be that both incumbents and those seeking office will need to be more transparent and more responsive to those they serve - the public.