It is shameful that Hamilton County has people so ill-informed and hateful that they play silly birther and "socialism" games with a school board race. But here we are.
Marco Perez, a Hamilton County Board of Education candidate, told The Chattanooga Times Free Press Sunday that a series of online posts by local conservatives questioning his citizenship and calling him a socialist is an "unfair distraction" from education issues and his heated campaign against Tom Decosimo for the open District 2 school board seat.
Perez is most certainly a born American citizen — the son of an American mother and Costa Rican father who established and were operating a Torchbearers International School, a Christian Bible school in Costa Rica, when he was born.
What's more, he is no more socialist than the Chattanooga tea party group that posted the slurs both in the Chattanoogan and on Facebook. Nor is Costa Rica. In fact, Costa Rica is a unitary presidential constitutional republic that held its first democratic election under a new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held more than a dozen presidential elections, the latest in 2018, and is probably Central America's most stable country.
But in an opinion posting on the Chattanoogan website, a recurring conservative opinion writer, April Eidson, suggested Perez move back there "if socialism is so great."
After the comment in the Chattanoogan, the Chattanooga Tea Party made a series of Facebook posts including an advertisement questioning Perez's citizenship and insinuating he is a socialist. In one post, the party linked to the Chattanoogan article and included an image of Perez edited over a Socialist Workers Party flag with the caption "Importing socialism one child at a time."
The group followed that post with a poll, which has since been removed, asking "Should Hamilton County Elected Officials and Hamilton County School Board Officials be US Natural Born Citizens to represent our local community." In a comment, the tea party group's account said it had contacted INS (the former Immigration and Naturalization Services) to "confirm Mr Perez immigration status."
The group also took out an advertisement on Facebook which read "Importing Socialism: Transplant Costa Rican Democrat Marco Perez is running for school board in District 2," and linked back to its Facebook page, according to a screenshot of the ad obtained by the Times Free Press.
When the Times Free Press wrote about this foolishness on Sunday, neither Eidson nor the tea party group would comment.
Decosimo didn't either — other than to say he had no part in the posts or the Facebook ad.
Later he posted on his campaign's Facebook page: "My campaign was made aware that another group has been running ads against my opponent, Marco Perez, in regards to him being an immigrant from Costa Rica. "
"An immigrant?" No, Tom, try American citizen.
Then Decosimo dug the hole deeper. "I would like to be clear that these ads were run without the knowledge or input of either me or my campaign. My grandparents were immigrants, and ads such as these are not something I ever would have created or condoned. I'm sure the group coordinating my opponent's campaign has not been consulted by outside groups which have produced negative ads about me, nor do we hold him responsible for the inaccuracies these groups put forth against me in these ads."
Perez, whom this page already has endorsed and does so again even more strongly now, questions why the issue isn't education, rather than his name and heritage.
"I am running for our students, for education, for improving our schools and continuing the improvement that we've made. To me, this kind of attack has no place in our discussion about education," he told the Times Free Press on Sunday. "It's an unfair distraction from the election and the things that actually matter.
"I am an American citizen and have been my whole life," he continued. "And I also represent the diversity that's in our community, which is a reality that we should embrace about the diversity that's in our schools."
That hits the nail on the head. The right-wingers' big education concern is still race. Not academics, not technology. Not safe and clean school buildings. It's race.
Decosimo co-founded the conservative Hamilton Flourishing and the Good Government Coalition — both of which sprung up to counter any and all equity actions in our schools. Decosimo calls equity a "loaded" and "negative" word. Last year, Hamilton Flourishing denounced teacher training sessions about "unconscious" bias. And in June, Decosimo criticized "the strident attitude" of students who walked peacefully across the Walnut Street Bridge to protest the Minneapolis death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. He said the image of a clenched fist in the organizers' flier advertising the protest "screamed violence" and hate. Never mind that on that flier, a banner with the words "Silent & Nonviolent" anchored the stylized fist.
Decosimo bends over backward to distance himself from the anti-Perez ads, but he is all too happy not to decry the ignorant and bigoted accusations against his opponent. Talk about something that screams. That silence screams.