Opinion: Hamilton County's District 11 school board race heats up

When people feared partisan school board elections in Tennessee when they were being considered in the Tennessee General Assembly last fall, what is happening in Hamilton County's new District 11 is likely what they had in mind.

Though neither Republican Virginia Anne Manson nor Democrat Jill Black have an opponent in the May 3 primary for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education, their race already has drawn nearly $50,000 in contributions, the most for any local school board race thus far.

Manson, according to campaign finance filings on the Hamilton County Election Commission website, has raised slightly less than $33,000, the most for any candidate who has reported in any school board race. Black has raised around $15,000, the second highest amount for any candidate.

By the time the August general election gets here, the two will likely have exceeded the nearly $57,000 in contributions the two school board candidates in District 2 raised before the election in 2020, almost assuredly a record.

For those who have forgotten, that race - in which Marco Perez defeated Tom Decosimo for an open seat - featured excessive spending, boatloads of out-of-district money, third-party allegations, and charges of lying and misrepresentation.

The new district, one of two added by the Hamilton County Commission last fall because of the county's growth as reflected in the 2020 census, includes the communities of Alton Park, East Lake, Eastside, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley, Missionary Ridge, Montague Park and St. Elmo.

Both Manson and Black live on Lookout Mountain, and both attended the same downtown church for a time during the last decade.

It's the extra added attractions, though, that already have raised eyebrows in the race.

For Manson, it is rumors that she attended the Jan. 6, 2021, protest rally in Washington, D.C., after which hundreds of supporters of then-President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol to attempt to stop the certification of votes from the 2020 election.

According to her campaign spokesman, she did attend the rally that day around the White House, Washington Monument and National Mall but never went onto Capitol grounds. In fact, he said, she was in her hotel room in Virginia when she saw on television all that occurred at the Capitol.

We would defend Manson's right to attend such a nonviolent protest just as we would any protester who attended any nonviolent rally following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020. While we have said we don't believe there was enough fraud to have changed the results of the 2020 presidential election, there was enough election uncertainty to shake the faith of the American voter.

As to Black, she was the subject of a recent Facebook post by the local branch of the organization Moms for Liberty insinuating that she is a witch or somehow is associated with the Wicca religion.

The organization posted a photo of the candidate, dressed in dark green, holding a candelabra. A video on the site has several other photos of her together with six other women dressed similarly, and includes audio from the 2012 Pixar film "Brave" in which one character says to another, "You are a witch" and the other responds, "Woodcarver."

The accompanying post said, "District 11 parents, are you familiar with who's running for your school board seat? Is this who you want making decisions for your children, families, and tax dollars? Did you know that she couldn't be bothered to fill out the church voter guide? Black Creek, St. Elmo, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley, LOOK OUT PARENTS!"

The post drew 163 comments, including the likes of "They are hiding their real agenda," "The radical leftists don't feel they have to hide their radicalism anymore," "I don't want a devil worshiper making educational choices for my children!" and "I see another far left liberal on a mission to corrupt kids and cause mass exit from public schools. Pure Marxist."

What nonsense!

Black is no witch, and Manson is no insurrectionist. We know Black to be a social worker and active church-goer with her husband and family and Manson to be a capable school administrator and devoted mother and grandmother.

Who would make the better school board member should be decided by their knowledge of the issues, their ability to elucidate solutions to problems and their ability to calmly collaborate with other members of the board.

Since the two won't oppose each other until August, we suggest voters take the time between now and then to learn about both and determine their choice not on fake news but on substance.