Say what you want about the last election cycle. Say it was a travesty. Say it was a triumph. But whatever you say about it all, you cannot say that it was yet another round of politics as usual. The new atmosphere in Washington has brought about a new tide of political activism that is reaching down to the local, state and national levels. This is long overdue. For the newly political or those hoping to be, we've dedicated this week's issue to activism.
An active electorate is reflected in a robust election cycle. This is created when citizens move from activism to office. Locally this surge of political interest can be found in the upcoming Bend-LaPine School Board race. According to board chair Peggy Kinkade, only three of the current seven members of the Bend-La Pine School Board were originally elected to their positions. In the past 10 years, six people were appointed to school board positions, Kinkade told the Source. The process of avoiding an election and appointing a board member can often have a chilling effect on the democratic process. A school board member wants to step down, but instead of leaving just before the election, he or she leaves prior to the end of their term, allowing the other board members to appoint someone to stand in the spot. That appointed person then becomes the incumbent. An incumbent, while not necessarily better qualified, will often have an advantage in name recognition, support of the existing board and prior service. Since incumbents are more challenging to beat in a general election, it discourages many newcomers from running, and often these incumbents slide into their position unopposed and not thoroughly vetted by the electorate.
This time around, with the early exit of Nori Juba from the school board, 26 people have put their names in the hat for his position. That's encouraging. It indicates community members are paying attention to political races, like the school board, which can often fly under the electorate radar. School board positions are important. Board members angle for the location of new schools, for the contract to build those new schools, for the teachers and administrators who will lead those schools, and for the curriculum that will guide students. They also influence collective bargaining agreements. Those are lofty responsibilities.
On Wednesday Feb. 15, the school board will began interviewing the 26 people vying for the appointed seat. Whoever gets that coveted spot will have the precious "incumbent" status. Ahead of the May elections season, we hope to see just as many interested parties throwing their hats in the ring for the position in hopes for a strong debate about our communities' school priorities. And, we trust this is a trend for every one of our local races going forward. We hope this is the first of many races in which people take their activism beyond the ballot box and further into public service.