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How school boards get pulled into polarized politics – Detroit Free Press

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John Wisely
 
| Detroit Free Press

Some of the emails are thoughtful. Others are pleading. But many don’t waste time on pleasantries.

“Some of them are very threatening; they’re cruel,” said Beth Pyden, one of four school board members in Chippewa Valley Schools facing a recall attempt over their votes last year to delay the return of in-person learning. “A lot of them start with ‘I demand … ‘ “

School board members across Michigan and around the country have been tasked with deciding when and how to return students to classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Their decisions have been as varied as the communities they serve.

In a polarized political environment where feelings run hot on both sides, they acknowledge they aren’t going to please everyone. The decisions often mean alienating a group of parents or a teachers’ union or fellow board members who may disagree. 

More: Grosse Pointe school board race takes a nasty turn

More: Some Michigan schools set to reopen after 10 months, but others still waiting

Viral videos from around the country show angry parents shouting at school board members, pointing fingers and issuing demands and threats of recall or worse. 

Added scrutiny

The decisions place added scrutiny on school board trustees. They are typically parents in the community elected to serve in jobs that pay nothing, or some nominal amount, but still demand time commitments for meetings and other school-related events.

School boards have long been disrespected. Mark Twain famously dissed them saying: “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

School board members say that during COVID-19, they’ve been called worse. But school officials say getting good people to serve on boards is important, especially in Michigan, where local control of education has long be protected.

“We’ve done some surveys over the last four years about why people don’t run for school board,” said Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards. “The No. 1 reason is they view school boards as too political. Not Republican and Democrat political, but just the internal politics of a town in the school district, and people don’t want to mire themselves in those fights.”

Michigan has more than 500 local school districts, all of which have school boards. Michigan also has hundreds of charter schools, which can have their own boards as well.

Wotruba’s group was still assembling statewide data, but as of the candidate filling deadlines in most recent elections, many school board members chose to stick it out.

“We didn’t see a higher than normal number of people stepping down from their seats,” Wotruba said.

Unfilled seats

Wotruba acknowledges getting people to run for the school board has proved challenging in recent years.

“We were seeing a trend where, as we approached election, 10% of seats went unfiled for, where no one threw their hat in the ring,” Wotruba said.

Wotruba’s group launched an advertising campaign, using public radio to encourage people to “Get on board.” He said some people are willing to serve, but they are put off by the idea of raising money and engaging in a competition that can take on the nastiness of state and national campaigns.

“If we have a vacancy for appointment in a school district, it might have five to 10 people apply for that vacancy,” he said. “That very same seat, if it were open for an election, sometimes nobody files for it. So they think that service on the board isn’t bad, but think about it, they ran in this past election. Think about this past election.”

Virtual divide

Among the most divisive decisions school boards have faced is in-person learning. Families that want it, want it badly. 

Many schools have tried to provide it. Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has argued families that want it deserve the chance to get it.

Last year, the Detroit Federation of Teachers signed a memorandum of understanding with the district agreeing to return to classrooms with safety protocols in place. The deal also provided teachers with $750 of hazard per for each marking period.

But some Detroit teachers objected, saying in early January that schools should remain in virtual learning for the remainder of the school year.

“The question of reopening should not come up again this year,” said Ben Royal, a teacher who heads a group within the union known as the BAMN caucus. “Students, teachers, school support staff, and parents need to get acclimated to remote education, and a constant reopening and re-shutting down only further endangers our city while doing nothing to improve the quality of education.”

Time commitment

Sarah Prescott said she ran for the Northville Board of Education because she wanted to help her community.

As a lawyer, she’d seen mismanaged school districts sued for their mistakes and she wanted better for the district her three kids attend.

In her first term on the board, Prescott said she prepared for meetings, took an active part in them and later went home feeling she’d done a good job. From there, her focus shifted to raising her kids and running her law practice until it was time to prepare for the next meeting.

“I could seal it off,” she said. “COVID erased all those borders. It’s always with me. I’m always working on it, thinking about it, caring about it.”

Prescott said she’s probably invested more time in board service in the last 12 months than she did in the previous four years combined. Reading the science on the virus, checking to see what the state was urging or requiring, watching how neighboring districts were dealing with COVID-19, all have taken lots of time.

She said her district worked hard to get decisions right, but she saw other neighboring districts working hard, too. She blames state and federal leaders for “leaning into local control” and forcing every school district in America to try to become experts in addressing a pandemic.

“It’s a million different micro labs to test out what would work,” she said. “What we just did could have been done in a more organized way at a higher level to bring some meaning and sense and to it.”

She said there has been some acrimony, but most of the people she’s encountered have been civil and candid about wanting the best for their kids.

Despite the frustrations, she doesn’t regret her service. Prescott chose to seek reelection in November and finished with the highest vote total. In January, she became board president.

“I think there are probably a lot of people who look at it and say, ‘God, who would want to do that?’ ” she said. “I look at it and say, what an awesome way to engage in your community especially as a parent.”

‘All hell broke loose’

Huron Valley Schools in western Oakland County returned students to classrooms in September two days a week. In October, they studied moving to four days a week.

“Before we made the decision in October to go back four days a week, we had a five-hour board study session on a Saturday,” Board President Tom Wiseman said. “The following Monday, we had another five-hour board meeting where we decided that we were going to go back face-to-face, four days a week and  we’re going to do that on Nov. 9. Then, all hell broke loose.”

COVID-19 cases in Oakland County spiked and the health division downgraded the county’s status. The board balked at expanding the face-to-face learning, Wiseman said. 

“So instead of going back to school face-to-face, we went back to remote and at that point in time we went to remote for the entire district,” he said.

By December some parents were protesting outside the high school urging the board to reopen the schools.

Like Prescott, Wiseman said he doesn’t regret his time on school board.

“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that the closer you are to decision-making from a local standpoint, the more effective you can be. I would absolutely encourage urge people to run for the school board.”

Recall effort

In Macomb County’s Chippewa Valley Schools, many parents were upset that the district was slow to offer in-person learning and last year launched a recall effort. 

The petitions cite as reasons for the recall board member votes in August to begin the school year in a remote-only environment and another vote in November, which returned elementary school students and special-needs students to remote-only learning after they’d been allowed into classrooms in October.

“Both yes votes were contrary to the plan that was presented to parents all summer long and the recommendations of government officials, doctors and other experts in the field,” the petition language reads.

The Macomb County Election Commission in December rejected the recall petition language on clarity grounds, but in January, modified language was approved.

In addition to Pyden, the recall targets Board President Frank Bednard, Vice President Denise Aquino and trustee George Sobah.

Once the petition language was approved, organizer Terry Prince began looking for ways to gather signatures in the middle of the pandemic. He estimates he needs 12,000 signatures from registered voters in the district to force a recall election. 

The group scheduled a drive-thru petition signing event over the weekend at Burning Tree Golf Club in Macomb Twp. Prince said he recognizes the effort is difficult, but he and others believe it’s worth doing.

“We had over 45 volunteers on a Zoom call last week and we have 70 volunteers on our email list,” he said. “We’ve been hearing from some political groups offering to help us as well. This isn’t political for me, but I’ll take all the help I can get.”

Pyden said she’s been subjected to online harassment and being bashed on social media. 

“I can imagine many of the people who are sending the threatening emails and doing the bashing online, I can 100% guarantee they would not tolerate that if that was coming at their family or their children,” she said. 

Pyden said it has been a difficult time to serve. She’s come home from board meetings in tears and some of her family members have urged her to quit. But she doesn’t regret the votes she cast that prompted the recall.

“It’s hard when you care so much,” she said. “That someone would think that there is any sort of ulterior motive when you’re just trying to keep 15,000 plus kids and 2,500 employees safe in a worldwide pandemic.”

Pyden said she believes it’s best to err on the side of caution.

“We’ll never know if we did too much, but it’ll become really clear if we didn’t do enough,” she said.

As far as the recall effort, Pyden said she’s at peace with it. 

“I’m just going to let the voters decide,” she said. 

Despite the frustrations, Pyden said she would encourage others to run for school board, though she would caution them to be thick-skinned.

“We need good people on school boards,” she said. “School boards are truly the most grassroots of political organizing. They truly make the biggest difference because school has affected every single person in the community at one point or another.”

No district had a more acrimonious school board election in November than Grosse Pointe. Eighteen candidates ran for five seats in a race that featured dark money ads, the censure of a candidate and accusations of racism and law-breaking.

The new board took office in January and so far has gotten along despite the heat of the campaign, said Colleen Worden, one of the candidates who won office.

“We’re a pretty civil board so far and I think it’s going to stay that way,” Worden said. “We recently voted 7-0 to go back” to face-to-face learning.

She said she’s seen some of the acrimony and people who want to serve do need thick skin. But she doesn’t regret getting involved.

“I would highly encourage someone to get involved at this level,” she said. “It’s really interesting. It’s compelling. It’s really the best volunteer work you’ll ever do. I think it’s very rewarding.”

Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or jwisely@freepress.com. On Twitter @jwisely

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‘I represent more than myself.’ Black politicians reflect on their historic firsts – PBS NewsHour

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Black History Month is not only a celebration of past achievements, but also an acknowledgement of the work Black Americans continue to do to help the country realize its promise of democracy and equality.

Black people remain underrepresented across industries, including politics. But as the country’s demographics and priorities shift, recent elections and appointments have ushered in historic numbers of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ individuals into public office at all levels of government, many of whom represent the first person of their background to hold such a position.

During a time of nationwide discussions about racial injustice, diversity and equity, four Black politicians whose elections were historic firsts spoke with the PBS NewsHour to reflect on their time in office and what this moment means to them.

“It’s an honor of a lifetime, but also a tragedy that we’re still talking about firsts in 2018 when I was elected,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said. “But as Vice President [Kamala Harris] says, ‘I won’t be the last.’”

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you talk a little about your background and what inspired you to get into politics?

Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council Vice President, first openly transgender Black woman to serve in public office in the U.S. (2018): “My background has been one of service to community and advocacy around LGBT issues, even more specifically, transgender issues. I have been a lifelong activist for Black liberation and Black rights. But trying to figure out how to do that in the context of within the system, I think we need an inside-outside strategy. … We need people who are agitators who bring the issues to the forefront. We also need service providers who help people, like in [Texas] right now, people need water, people need shelter, clothes. And then we need policymakers to make good policy to bring all of those things together. So, having done the service delivery, having done the activist part, I thought maybe I should try the elected part to see if we can make some change happen in that regard.”

Aaron Ford, Nevada’s first Black attorney general (2019): “As a former educator, I thought to myself, ‘What can I do to improve the educational opportunities for people in our state?’ So I decided to run for office. I decided to get involved as opposed to being on the outside, throwing rocks. I want to get in and try to effectuate some real positive change in the educational arena. Since then, I’ve seen that education and the economy are intimately intertwined and that led me to continue pursuing the legislative arena [as a state senator]. But then mid-term, during my second term in office, the idea of running for attorney general was presented to me as a consideration and I viewed it as an opportunity … to help more people quicker and be able to utilize my unique background as a lawyer and an educator and as a former senator.”

READ MORE: Black women were vital to the Black church. Here are 2 stories

Utah state Rep. Sandra Hollins, first Black woman to serve in the Utah state legislature (2015): “My occupation is social work. I’ve worked as a social worker in treatment centers with my primary focus being on those who are in poverty and those who are experiencing homelessness. … I have always been active in my community. I’ve always been active where I live because I feel that that’s what you should do when you move into a community, you should give back to that community. And so when the position came open to run for office, the woman who was in this position, Representative Jennifer Seelig, reached out to me and asked me, have I ever considered running for public office before? And after some consideration, I decided to run for office. I honestly don’t know if I would have ever run for public office if I wasn’t asked to.”

Harry LaRosiliere, first Black mayor of Plano, Texas (2013): “I was born in Haiti. My family immigrated to the States when I was almost four years old, lived off 125th and Broadway [in New York City] most of my life. And in 1994 I came to Texas, and prior to coming to Texas it was in 1992 that I decided I wanted to be mayor. That was kind of my calling. I got interested in politics because David Dinkins was the first African American mayor of New York at the time, and that was it. And so my path just slowly took me there, and eventually I became mayor in 2013.”

[embedded content]

When you reflect on your history-making achievement, how do you feel being a ‘first’?

Jenkins: “It’s enormously, just, mind-blowing, to be quite honest with you. I’ve been doing this work for a long time, so it almost makes it feel like I’m new to the scene and that’s not the reality. I’ve been doing this work for almost 30-plus years. But it makes me feel proud to be a part of the annals of American history. … It’s awe inspiring. It’s a little overwhelming to have your name mentioned with Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris and, you know, Rosa Parks. I mean, who wouldn’t be proud? It’s quite, quite something.”

Ford: “It’s an honor of a lifetime, but also a tragedy that we’re still talking about firsts in 2018 when I was elected. I reflect back on my upbringing, and from college on I have been, if not the only certainly one of the only Black Americans in the room — in my law practice, in my educational endeavors. And recognizing that there is a burden, unfair or otherwise, that is placed upon me as a Black American, and on all of us as Black Americans to represent the entirety of your race and understand that what I do is more than just a reflection on me. … Recognizing that I represent more than myself, sitting in this position as a top law enforcement officer and top legal adviser in this state, is an important consideration that I keep in the forefront of my mind at all times. It’s a blessing to be here, but it’s also a travesty that I’m the first to hold this position. But as Vice President [Kamala Harris] says, ‘I won’t be the last.’”

Hollins: “I was quite shocked to learn … when I was asked to run for office that I would be the first Black American woman at the [Utah] Capitol and to hold a state-level position. I feel it comes with a great responsibility, one that I do embrace. I know as a result of me running, I’ve had a number of young Black American and African American women who have expressed interest in politics now and see themselves in this role and one day running for office or they have run for office. And so it comes with a great responsibility that I carry, but one that I carry proudly. And I’m very conscious of how I carry myself with the hope that I’m making my community proud.”

LaRosiliere: “I remember after getting elected, being the first Black mayor of the city, they said, ‘What do you think?’ … I said, ‘Well, we already had a Black president, so it’s not that big of a deal in my mind.’ But it is in a sense, because I realized as I started going to schools and seeing kids, how they looked up to me because I look like them, and I was in a position that they just didn’t imagine. We’re a population of about 8 percent here in Plano of African Americans. And so we’re not a big population of the city, yet I was chosen to be mayor. It’s something to those kids. So it’s meant more to me afterwards than before, for sure.”

You often hear from Black people who are the first to hold a particular position that being a ‘first’ can come with enhanced scrutiny or pressure. How have such challenges influenced your time in office?

Jenkins: “I used to hear a lot of Black politicians say, ‘I represent a certain district, but I get calls from Black people from all over.’ It’s kind of a very similar scenario being a trans person. I hear from trans people from around the country, from around the state, from other parts of the city that I don’t necessarily represent. But there’s this voice and this representation that is in these seats of power and people want to reach out to you. … Because I am, you know, Black and transgender, I think there’s a certain amount of expectations that people place on me from their own experiences, like they want me to be someone that, quite frankly, I’m not. … People project their own ideals onto me and then get upset when I don’t necessarily live up to their ideals. So that presents a little bit of a pressure kind of too.”

Ford: “I’ve been an unabashed advocate for speaking truth to power from a position of power, irrespective of the negative consequences that may arise out of them. … “I’m the attorney general now, but before that I was the Senate majority leader and before that I was a Senate minority leader. And each of those instances I would speak up on the issues that some would say ‘that’s not a good idea if you want to get reelected.’ ‘That’s not an issue that folks want to hear about and so you shouldn’t discuss it.’ And a lot of that related to race-based issues. A lot of that related to discrimination in the voting process, for example, in housing and in education. And so I’ve always viewed it as an ultimate waste if I did not utilize my authority and my position to speak to issues that otherwise may not even get addressed.”

Hollins: “I agree with our Vice President Harris, when she says that she is the first, but definitely not the last. My goal is to always open that door for other women of color to walk through it. … But it hasn’t been without its challenges. For me, I not only represent my district, but I represent the Black community. A lot of times when there are challenges or anything that’s going on in the Black community, then I’m brought into that conversation. I get trusted with all of the stories of discrimination that may be happening to them in this state. I’m the one that they trust with the stories and to work out the issue or to address the issue. … A lot of times when I walk into [the Capitol], I’m the only Black woman. And for some people I’m the only and the first Black woman that they have ever met. And so I know when I walk into that room, I’m representing every Black woman in the state of Utah. And so I’m very conscious of that but I embrace it.”

LaRosiliere: “As someone in a position like this where I’m one of the few [Black people] there already, it’s very obvious. I think you’re watched a bit more, and there’s opportunities, I think, to rise and to also set the tone and the example for others. It sometimes does weigh because you feel there’s a magnification on you. … But we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a good run as mayor and a lot of good things happen in our city. And because of me being in this position, we’ve been able to do some things that we otherwise might not have simply because I had a different perspective.”

Raphael Warnock made history in January, becoming the first African American elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. In this photo from January, Warnock holds a small rally with young campaign volunteers on election day in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff election. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters.

What keeps you motivated to do this work despite the various challenges you may face?

Jenkins: “It’s a mission, because, quite frankly, it would be really easy to just be like, ‘I’m good. I did my part. Y’all can go fuss with somebody else, because I’m done.’ But, you know, I really believe in the statement that representation matters. And then we need Black voices, we need trans voices, we need people who can relate to the pressures of inner-city life, people that can relate to the challenges that single mothers face, people that can relate to the issues of over policing and all of these things. Because I have long-term experience in this area … I feel like it’s my responsibility to really try to do what I can to move Black liberation forward.”

Ford: “I think back to an ancestor that I just learned about the last couple of years or so: my fourth great grandfather, William. I don’t want to end as he ended, but the story goes this way: He was on the auction block in Fordyce, Arkansas, and he said, ‘I will not be treated like cattle. You will not sell me and separate me from my family.’ So they killed him right there, and then they sold three of his sons to U.S. labor in Texas. One of those sons is my great, great, great grandfather. And the story obviously leads to me, which is the African American attorney general for the state of Nevada. Him standing for his own humanity, irrespective of people trying to treat him as something that he was not, helps to encourage me to continue to stand up, irrespective of what happens to me on Twitter or Facebook or walking in public.”

Hollins I have two things that keep me motivated. Number one is: I know that there’s a number of young women and young Black girls that look up to me. I know that they’re looking to my leadership, and I know that they’re looking to me, as I’m treading this path, to walk behind me. … The next thing is, I tell everybody, when you are doing work around social justice, the best way I can describe it is that there’s just kind of this fire inside of me. And it’s like if I don’t say anything or do anything it’s going to keep burning. And it’s only when I speak up, it’s only when I take action that I could feel that fire subsiding until the next thing comes up. And that’s what keeps me motivated. It keeps me motivated. Something in me won’t let me just sit by and be quiet.”

LaRosiliere: “Being in the position where you can make a difference in direction, tone, policy, allows you to open doors. And so for me one of the things we stress the most is some programs we set up for a summer internship for our high school students, 30 to 40 percent of them first generation college bound. So we provided them skills to connect with businesses and have networking and things like that. So the ability to do those things makes it that much more rewarding in so many ways.”

In recent years we’ve seen a push for diversity and equity that seems to have strengthened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. What do you make of this moment we’re in?

Jenkins: “It feels like we’re on a precipice of really transformational, systemic change. Yet by the same token, that change is being met with the same resistance that it has always been met with throughout the history of this country, and that is violence and threats and death and all of these machinations behind the scenes to limit people’s access to the ballot box and to, I think, undermine folks’ ability through lack of access to basic necessities. … I’m cautiously, cautiously optimistic, but we’ve been on this battlefield for a very long time and some days it feels like the whole world has shifted and everything has changed, and then some days when especially you look at the statistics … all of these things give you pause and you have to wonder, are things changing? … I think Harriet Tubman had the audacity to hope. I think my grandmama had the audacity to hope and I think we have to maintain that level of hope and action. Because hope without action is just a dream, right? But we have to have hope and we have to act.”

Ford: “I feel like it’s deja vu all over again. To be sure, we are standing with an opportunity to do some things, but we’ve been here before. We’ve seen the aftermath of the killings of unarmed Black people over the course of time. And people have piped up, and they’ve been engaged, and they wanted to see change and then they’ve gotten complacent.” …

“I was glad to see law enforcement and civil rights organizations alike chime in and say this is an opportunity for change. But as I have said, the conversation should be almost over, if not over. The time for conversing should have passed such that we are now seeing actual policies and laws implemented that effectuate real change on these issues. And I’m glad to see that, in fact, that is happening. For example, duty to intervene coming up in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing and the opportunity to have representation at every level.”

READ MORE: Harris’ inauguration puts spotlight on the political influence of Black sororities

Hollins: “It is pretty exciting to see that we’re not only in this moment, but that we’re in this movement right now and that we have a number of young people who are now stepping up to the plate and who are pushing for these changes in policies and pushing for more diversity and more equity in all industries. They’re out there on the front line and they are demanding change and they’re willing to put in the work to make change in their communities.”

LaRosiliere “I think as more allies awaken to the understanding of what we’ve gone through as a people, and then have the willingness to lend a hand and be partners. I think that’s how we grow. Here in Plano we have an incredible business community that’s reached out in so many meaningful ways. We’re collaborating with them in our schools to provide opportunities. So this is a moment for us, we seize it and we move forward in the most productive way we can.”

What recommendations or thoughts do you have on ways to expand diversity and equity within politics?

Jenkins: “I was so proud to see Cori Bush elected to Congress. You know, she got her start in activism around Ferguson. … This year we we saw record numbers of LGBT and transgender folks and gender nonconforming people elected to public office, and I think we need to continue to see that kind of representation in all areas of elected public life. You need to see people appointed to positions, we need people serving on school boards and library boards … we need to be in those spaces, not just in elected offices, but throughout the process.”

Ford: “Look for diverse talent, expand that applicant pool. Actually go and recruit in places where you can increase the opportunity for minorities to get engaged. Secondly, actually support them once they get engaged. Don’t just think that the task is over once you’ve convinced someone to run. The third piece of advice I offer is to the candidate … you have to be resilient. … You won’t always see success in your efforts. But you have to be resilient. You got to bounce back.”

Hollins: “We’ve got to make a conscious effort. I am the only Black woman up here at this time. But it’s not without me purposely going out and talking to young women and trying to recruit young women to be involved in politics. And let’s not forget, you don’t have to run for office in order to be in politics. There are so many other positions in politics where we can make change, where we don’t have to be running for office because it may not be everybody’s thing. … But yeah, it has to be a conscious effort to get people on the ballot and we have to support Black women in office. It’s one thing to go out and say, ‘We want more diversity in politics. We want to see more Black women in office.’ But yet when they run for office, you’re not volunteering to help them campaign. You’re not putting your money where your mouth is … and you’re not voting for them. And so it takes this concerted effort in order to get Black women in office.”

LaRosiliere: “It really starts by getting involved. You have to be there and you have to do the work, wherever your skills and talents take you and then learn your community so that you can truly serve the people you choose to.”

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The empty, performative politics of Marjorie Taylor Greene – CNN

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She tweeted this along with the video: “Our neighbor, @RepMarieNewman, wants to pass the so-called ‘Equality’ Act to destroy women’s rights and religious freedoms,” she tweeted. “Thought we’d put up ours so she can look at it every time she opens her door.” Greene added a winking face emoji and an American flag.
Greene’s move was prompted by Newman, a Democratic member of Congress from Illinois whose office is across from Greene’s, putting up a transgender flag outside her office and tweeting this: “Our neighbor, @RepMTG tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil.’ Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.”
Newman put a winky face emoji and a transgender flag emoji with her tweet.
Newman, whose daughter is transgender, was supporting the Equality Act that aims to ban discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual preference. In an emotional speech on the House floor earlier in the day Tuesday, Newman said this of the act: “The right time to pass this act was decades ago. The second best time is right now. I’m voting yes on the Equality Act for Evie Newman, my daughter and the strongest, bravest person I know.”
The back-and-forth between Newman and Greene is a reminder of an increasingly common strain in the Republican Party in the Trump age: Performative politics as an end in and of itself.
See, Greene isn’t putting that sign up because she thinks it might have some sort of actual effect on the debate over the Equality Act. The bill has support among the Democratic House majority and is likely to pass. Greene knows that. All she is doing is rallying her political base by putting on a performance with zero actual effect on how or whether this bill will become a law or not.
And of course, it worked. Greene’s video had 4.3 million views on Twitter as of Thursday morning, double the number that Newman’s video had gathered. It will further cement her status as a Trumpian cultural warrior, battling the forces of “woke” culture and standing up for traditional values.
“Rep. Newmans daughter is transgender, and this video and tweet represents the hate and fame driven politics of self-promotion at all evil costs,” tweeted Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “This garbage must end, in order to #RestoreOurGOP.”
That’s exactly right. For Greene, the performance and the controversy is the point. She has zero interest in actually legislating or even trying to build relationships with colleagues with whom she may not agree. Her sole interest is in building her Twitter followers, her small-dollar donor base and her profile on Fox News. That’s success for Greene. That’s how she views the job of representing the people of the 14th district of Georgia.
And she might be the most extreme example but she won’t be the only one. Donald Trump’s presidency (and his post-presidency) tilled the soil for candidates just like Greene to succeed. No longer is going to Washington to do something considered of value to the Republican base. Now the goal is to troll Democrats (and the media) with outlandish — and, in this case, intolerant — behavior. And of course to document and share it as widely as possible, because if a tree falls in the forest and all that.
Greene will view the back-and-forth with Newman as a major success. Her video will continue to accumulate views. More people will know her name. She’ll raise more money off it. Win, win, win for her.
And a loss for anyone who believes that politics is about relationships and actually trying to find common ground to get things done for the American people.

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Politics

How to make African politics less costly – The Economist

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AYISHA OSORI, a Nigerian lawyer and author, has vividly described running for political office in her country. She twists the arms of party elders, flatters their wives and hands over wads of banknotes—the cleaner the better. “Without money”, she concludes, “most aspirations would evaporate like steam.”

Politics costs money everywhere, but the link between cash and power is especially corrosive in Nigeria and across much of Africa. In rich democracies parties choose candidates and subsidise their campaigns. In many African ones aspiring politicians pay vast sums to run on a party ticket and then shell out even more to cover their own costs. They give voters handouts, which serve both as bribes and as hints of future generosity. Once in office, they keep spending: on constituents’ school fees, medical bills, funeral costs and construction projects (see article). Individual politicians, in effect, act as mini welfare states. Some 40% of ambulances in Uganda are owned by MPs. Their spending often dwarfs their official salaries.

This is bad for Africa. When a life in politics costs so much, the impecunious and honest will be excluded. Many MPs will either be rich to begin with, or feel the need to abuse power to recoup their expenses, or both. Even if they are not corrupt, MPs are a poor substitute for a genuine welfare state. Their largesse may go to those who ask loudest, or to a favoured ethnic group.

So long as states are weak, it makes sense for voters to ask their MPs for handouts, rather than for better laws or help to navigate the bureaucracy. It is also rational for MPs to neglect legislative work in favour of gifts and pork, if this is what voters say they want. But as Africa develops, this should change. As voters grow richer, they will be harder to buy. As governments grow more effective, MPs will have fewer gaps to fill. Alas, these shifts could take decades.

Africans need something better, sooner. Outsiders often suggest tougher campaign-finance laws, but these seldom work. They are often ignored. And laws copied from the West tend to miss the point, by regulating spending by parties before elections, rather than by sitting MPs.

Better would be to take a different approach. One aim would be to strengthen institutions that expose and punish corruption. Last year Malawians booted out the graft-ridden regime of Peter Mutharika thanks, in large part, to independent judges. Politicians who see graft punished are more likely to stay clean.

Another aim would be to encourage parties to run on policies, rather than ethnicity or patronage. African NGOs, trade unions and business groups should nudge them in this direction—or help set up alternatives. New parties, such as Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform in Uganda, are gaining popularity partly because they oppose the old rot. Philanthropists could give them money—and ask nothing in return.

The essential thing is to curb MPs’ informal role as sources of welfare. The long-term fix would be to make local governments work properly. A stopgap is to improve Constituency Development Funds. These are pots of public money to be spent largely at the discretion of MPs. More than a dozen African countries have them. They are not as grubby as they sound. Research from Kenya finds that voters judge MPs on how they use these funds, so they offer some accountability. With greater transparency, they would offer more.

Africa has grown more democratic in the past 30 years. Multi-party elections are common, albeit often flawed. Opposition parties are gaining ground. Most leaders leave office peacefully, rather than in coups. Politics is becoming more competitive. The next step is to make it less costly.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Fixing Africa’s pricey politics”

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