Everything voters say they hate about political campaigns has now trickled down from the usually bitter presidential campaign to a race for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education.
With less than a week to go, the race for the District 2 seat covering Signal Mountain and Red Bank on the board has been littered with excessive spending, out-of-district money, third-party allegations and charges of lying or misrepresentations in advertising by the campaigns of both candidates.
* Excessive spending: Check. The two candidates combined took in nearly $57,000 in contributions in the second quarter, according to campaign finance reports, for a job that pays $12,208.71.
* Out-of-district money: Check. According to campaign finance filings, based on addresses given of contributors who gave at least $100, more than 82% of the donations to candidate Marco Perez came from out of District 2, and more than 74% of donations to candidate Tom Decosimo came from out of the district.
* Third-party allegations: Check. The Chattanooga Tea Party has attempted to make Perez's Costa Rican birth to an American citizen an issue and, in doing, insinuate both that he may not be qualified for the office and that he is a socialist. Decosimo said he had no part in the tea party's allegations and rightly declined to comment on their content.
* Charges of lying/misrepresentation: Check. Supporters of Decosimo have said a Facebook ad supporting Perez as well as posts on social media sites representing the League of Signal Mountain Voters, Hamilton County United and Nooga Holler are chock full of lies about Decosimo, while an advertisement supporting Decosimo notes he is a Republican in what is by law a nonpartisan race.
People may wonder how a school board race devolved into such a battle, but they need go back only four years when a leftist-leaning outside group — UnifiEd — turned what was expected to be an easy re-election bid for school board chairman Dr. Jonathan Welch into a narrow victory for Kathy Lennon. Welch did little campaigning, sought no monetary support, and UnifiEd's influence put Lennon — for whom Perez was the campaign treasurer — over the top.
Lennon chose not to seek re-election for health reasons and anointed Perez as her preferred successor. Decosimo, a businessman and former chairman of United Way of Greater Chattanooga, then put his name in the hat.
The District 2 tiff is the only one of the four school board races that does not have an incumbent, which may be the reason for the outsized interest in its result.
A similar war is being fought for the right to be Tennessee's next U.S. senator. With the retirement of Sen. Lamar Alexander, the race between main combatants Bill Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi in the Republican primary has become increasingly bitter with who previously supported whom and who previously donated to whom becoming more important than issues of health care, national security and foreign policy.
In the school board race, though, the issue of whether Perez was properly an American, or properly a candidate, should never have been taken up. Likewise, ads supporting Perez suggesting Decosimo doesn't support school counselors, opposes First Amendment rights for students and sent his children only to private schools. Facts easily verified beforehand would have ended these allegations before they began.
A candidate for school board, according to the Tennessee School Boards Association, must be a citizen of Tennessee, be at least 18 years old, must be a resident of the school district, must be a high school graduate or have a GED, must be a registered voter in the county in which the candidate runs, and must not fall in a category which makes them ineligible to run for office.
Additionally, they must be an inhabitant of the state, county, district or circuit for the period required by the constitution and laws of the state, must not be a member of any other county body or be a county official, and must have petition signed by 25 qualified voters and file it properly.
For us, and we hope other voters, Perez's out-of-country birth is of no matter. Indeed, before we endorsed Decosimo, we were unaware of it. For us, it's a matter of whether a member of a school board is likely to be in step with anything a school district seeks or whether a school board member should use discernment, experience and creative thinking to determine if what is proposed is right for the district, its schools, administration, teachers and students.
We know Decosimo will do that and has demonstrated that in the assistance of many boards and agencies across the city. That's why we support his candidacy.