Politics have been nasty since politics were invented. Some recent campaigns have shown there can be no bottom to the nastiness. We are currently seeing the impact on policy, leadership, and public service. We heard dramatic testimony from election workers during the January 6 Congressional hearings about the harassment they faced. Now we are seeing political intimidation grow in local elections.
Calpeek has had an opportunity to learn more about the impact of political intimidation on a local jurisdiction in California. San Juan Unified School District Governing Board Member Zima Creason described the challenges and concerns her school district faces in a recent interview with Calpeek. One of the candidates running for school board in November is a member of the radical group the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys are a far right group that participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021. They are categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “Extremist Group” with an ideology of “General Hate”. This candidate has publicly stated that people “…should be afraid of me.” and has been caught on video attempting to intimidate other SJUSD candidates.
Creason said the campaigns are “getting so nasty, they are scaring people away from running” for public office. The chaos and disruption they cause discourages people from wanting to work in education. “We have a teacher shortage and this is making it worse. It’s scaring away great leaders. They wonder if it’s worth the risks to them and their families.”
People with extremist views are “still talking about wearing masks even though we are not requiring masks to be worn in our schools.” The far right candidates appear to be fighting the Covid restrictions that no longer exist. They also appear to be more interested in using a campaign platform to get attention than to focus on governing. “They make public statements that they then post on their social media platforms. They embolden each other. They are organized and running everywhere.”
“I’m proud of the work our Board has done. We don’t always agree, but we are all reasonable, we strive to work together, and we have even been used as an example of an effective, well-functioning , and successful school board. We don’t allow our differences to distract us from governing. “
The bullying, harassing, and direct threats are not just happening on the campaign trail. They have also invaded the public Board meetings that often include children. “When my kids attend Board meetings, they hear name calling, threats, and can see that the adults in the room are concerned.” Creason worries about the security of the meetings. “What happens if violence breaks out?”
Those around the water cooler know anyone eligible has a right to run for office. At the same time, Canada has labeled the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. Their political tactics are the lite beer version of the Nazi Brownshirt. So when do people say enough is enough and demand safety and civility at public meetings, on the campaign trail, and throughout our democratic process?