School Board Election Politics

Schools rank right up at the top of any respectable list of urban "issues".

When children, morals, and big money are thrown together in the political blender, the mixture is likely to explode every so often. It looks like this September 9th, there will be an explosion of sorts in Des Moines.

Feeding the fire:

  • Term Shenanigans - Newly elected rabble-rouser Jon Narcisse's first term may be shortened as the district aligns its members' terms to conform with the new Iowa school board election law. Narcisse and former school board member Jon Neiderbach have been very critical of the current school board majority.
  • Negative Campaigning - Anonymous e-mail campaigns (see below) and heated blogs light up the digital world while citizen groups bombard the meeting halls. There appear to be several surrogates, PACs, and candidates on both sides behind the shelling.
  • Real Estate - The incumbents have initiated various school closings, real estate sales, and renovations that deserve further review. (Note to all elected officials: sometimes the decision process is just as important as the decision itself).

This campaign has been particularly nasty, and I'm sick of negative campaigning. I have received negative e-mails from both sides, but one was particularly offensive. It was not the tone or the content, but the fact that it was written by an anonymous "concerned DMPS parent". Anonymous attacks stifle honest debate over difficult policy issues.

Only one candidate has an official campaign website that I can find, and it isn't very well developed in terms of actual policy suggestions.

Being "Anonymous" in the Digital Age

PDF Properties for DMPS Election Attack Ad: It's hard to stay anonymous in the new digital world.  Attack ads like this PDF document I received in my e-mail should NEVER be anonymous.PDF Properties for DMPS Election Attack Ad: It's hard to stay anonymous in the new digital world. Attack ads like this PDF document I received in my e-mail should NEVER be anonymous.It's hard to be anonymous in the digital age.

Most computer programs attach "metadata" to digital files they create. This usually includes the date and time it was created and some information about the program that created it. It sometimes includes the name of the person who created the file. Some of this information can be accessed simply by right-clicking on the actual document's icon and selecting "Properties" in the context menu.

Since anonymous attack ads rile me up, I opened up the Properties for one of the offending documents I received last week. Here's what I found: the anonymous "concerned DMPS parent" who printed this PDF appears to be someone by the name of Jim Phillips.

Now, metadata is relatively easy to forge so the names and dates should be taken with a grain of salt, but it can provide a starting point for an inquisitive digital detective. A Google search turns up a Jim Phillips who left a positive comment on the "Attack of the Narcisse Clones" blog, so it's not inconceivable that Jim is also the concerned parent. UPDATE (9/8/08): Turns out that "Jim Phillips" is a pseudonym. Several sources have looked into the issue in regards to campaign financing violations and determined that it is unlikely that the true author could be located.

It also has the same "creation" time (with a different "Modified" time) as the copy posted on the Narcisse Clones web site. There is now a new attack document (also anonymous, but bearing the same "author" in its metadata properties) posted just today.

Please claim your attacks in the future. Sniping from behind the wall of anonymity debases the entire electoral process.

Feeding Frenzy

At election time, there is blood in the water. Candidates, their supporters, their surrogates, and their detractors tear each other limb from limb to get press coverage. In doing so they feed the perception that nobody is prepared to govern the district, and that the district itself is ungovernable.

Positive perception is the ultimate casualty when the battle over public opinion becomes personal. The fallout from a divisive attack campaign will not dissipate once the election is over.

The Vote

In his acceptance speech, Barack Obama said, "if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters." This is an axiom that all candidates should take to heart, both incumbent and challenger.

In the absence of a defined progressive vision for change from the challengers, I am inclined right now to vote for the incumbents Murphy, Strong and Woods, and challenger Knauer.

P.S. Des Moines, you really have no idea how dysfunctional a district can become. I realize that our childrens' education is important, but it is also important to put things in perspective.