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Tears, politics and money: School boards become battle zones – Associated Press

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Local school boards around the country are increasingly becoming cauldrons of anger and political division, boiling with disputes over such issues as COVID-19 mask rules, the treatment of transgender students and how to teach the history of racism and slavery in America.

Meetings that were once orderly, even boring, have turned ugly. School board elections that were once uncontested have drawn slates of candidates galvanized by one issue or another.

A June school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia, that dealt with transgender students and the teaching of “critical race theory” became so unruly that one person was arrested for disorderly conduct and another was cited for trespassing.

In Rapid City, South Dakota, and Kalispell, Montana, nonpartisan school board races devolved into political warfare as conservative candidates, angered over requirements to wear masks in schools, sought to seize control.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican donor is planning to pour $500,000 into school board races.

“We’re in a culture war,” said Jeff Holbrook, head of Rapid City’s Pennington County GOP.

In South Carolina’s Lexington-Richland school system, a new majority of board members upset over pandemic restrictions forced out the superintendent, Christina Melton, who had pushed to keep a mask requirement in place through the end of the academic year. She had been honored just weeks earlier as the state’s superintendent of the year.

Melton broke into tears at a meeting in June as she offered her resignation. A board member also quit that day, complaining the body decided behind closed doors to force Melton out and avoid a public vote. The board censured the departed member at its next meeting.

“Now we’re known as the district with the crazy school board,” said Tifani Moore, a mother with three children and a husband who teaches in the district.

Moore is running for the empty board seat and promises to tamp down the political split, which she worries has crippled the board.

“It’s so thick, even the kids feel it,” she said.

School boards are typically composed of former educators and parents whose job, at least until recently, mostly consisted of ironing out budgets, discussing the lunch menu or hiring superintendents.

But online meetings during the pandemic made it easier for parents to tune in. And the crisis gave new gravity to school board decisions. Parents worried their children were falling behind because of remote learning or clashed over how serious the health risks were.

“I saw over and over again frustrated parents, thousands of parents, calling into their board meetings, writing letters and getting no response,” said Clarice Schillinger, a Pennsylvania parent who formed a group called Keeping Kids in School.

She recruited nearly 100 parents to run in November for school boards across Pennsylvania. While the group coalesced around pushing for schools to fully open, its candidates have also sought to bar the teaching of critical race theory, which among other things holds that racism is embedded in America’s laws and institutions

Schillinger said the group is split 70-30 between Republicans and Democrats. But its priorities are unmistakably conservative. She said it is trying to counter the sway teachers unions have over school boards: “It’s really less government — that’s what this comes down to.”

Paul Martino, a venture capitalist who donates to Republican candidates and pledged a half-million dollars to the movement and the creation of a statewide political action committee, said the new PAC will support candidates committed to keeping schools open no matter what, “even if there is the dreaded fall COVID surge.”

Conservative slates of candidates elsewhere across the country have also set their sights on school boards.

In Rapid City, four recently elected school board members will hold a controlling vote on the seven-member body, which oversees the education of roughly 14,000 students. In an area where Trump flags still fly, the four candidates for the usually nonpartisan board secured an endorsement in the June election from the local GOP.

In previous elections, seats on the board were often filled in uncontested elections. But this year, the campaigns turned into political battles, complete with personal attacks.

Critical race theory is not a part of the Rapid City school curriculum. But that didn’t stop candidates from making it a central issue of the campaign.

“I believe with all my heart this is how they are going to slip socialism and Marxism into our schools,” newly elected member Deb Baker said at a campaign event.

Curt Pochardt, who was unseated as the school board president in the election, said he worries the new partisan dynamic will hurt students’ education.

“It doesn’t help kids when there’s tension on a school board,” he said.

Education experts warn that school boards are squandering time that could be spent tackling issues such as recruiting teachers, ensuring students have internet access at home or improving opportunities for youngsters with disabilities.

“Every time we’re not talking about those issues and we’re talking about something else that’s divisive and it may not be happening at all — or at least not to the level it’s being portrayed — is lost opportunity for what we really need to be focused on,” said Chip Slaven, chief advocacy officer for the National School Boards Association.

In Kalispell, one losing school board candidate who campaigned against mask mandates made it clear he is not finished.

“I am the barbed spine of the jumping cholla cactus,” Sean Pandina told the board in May. “I’m the cholla in your flesh that you cannot remove. I’m comfortable with losing the election because I have latched on and am not going away.”

___

Associated Press reporters Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina and Iris Samuels in Helena, Montana contributed. Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Malaysia's politics are rotten from the top – The Economist

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IN KUALA LUMPUR, the chief city, as elsewhere in Malaysia, white flags hang from windows—cries of help from households for whom the pandemic has brought economic distress and even too little to eat. For the relatively prosperous country’s success in handling the coronavirus in 2020 has turned to calamity this year, with over 1.1m infections and a tardy roll-out of vaccines.

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Among proudly middle-class Malaysians, the pandemic has crystallised how their country too often benefits mainly the well-connected. Certain factory-owners have been allowed to continue operating even during lockdowns (thus seeding infections among workers). Politicians flout health rules that carry swingeing penalties for other infringers.

In this context, the black flags that mostly young, educated Malaysians are also hanging outside their flats represent not a cry for help but a political statement: the bendera hitam, or black-flag movement, is a protest against the elites’ various failures of governance, of which the pandemic is just the most glaring. Young medical workers demand better pay and conditions, while activists call for a political promise to lower the voting age, from 21 to 18, to be kept. The hashtag #Kerajaangagal (“failed government”) is popular on social media. Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia says such challenges represent “a new political training ground”, one confronting the old political hierarchies that have dominated for so long and that operate through patronage, corruption, colonial-era anti-sedition laws and gerrymandered elections.

It was not supposed to be this way. When the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had ruled since independence, was at last dislodged by an opposition coalition in 2018, Malaysians expected politics to change. But the new government, itself led by defectors from UMNO, proved unwieldy and fissiparous. The current prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, brought it down last year by re-defecting. He then cobbled together a new a parliamentary majority, including UMNO, through back-room machinations.

Although Mr Muhyiddin stuffed his cabinet with backers, many quickly grew disenchanted. Early this year he sought emergency powers until August 1st from the agong, or king (a handful of sultans take turns at the job). That was not only in order to deal with the pandemic, the ostensible reason, but also in order to suspend Parliament and so head off any challenge from a no-confidence vote. In late July the prime minister suspended Parliament again as soon as it had reconvened, citing infections in the building.

The move may only buy time, argues James Chin of the University of Tasmania. A rare rebuke from the king after Mr Muhyiddin unilaterally withdrew emergency ordinances—the agong declared that Parliament should have been consulted—may prove fatal. On August 3rd Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, UMNO’s leader, withdrew support for Mr Muhyiddin, so doing away with his majority. Facing down calls for his immediate resignation, on August 5th Mr Muhyiddin said the king had agreed to a no-confidence vote in September.

But anyone imagining that the opposition or even the king are chiefly motivated by the wishes of the people should think again. The mercurial Anwar Ibrahim, who for decades has eyed the top job and is chief among those calling for Mr Muhyiddin to go, has ruined his reformist credentials, not least by allying with some of UMNO’s sleaziest elements. UMNO itself appears unreformable: Mr Zahid, for one, faces 87 corruption charges. As for the hereditary sultans, their authority has flourished during the bickering and with it their huge but opaque business interests. Despite his dressing-down, Mr Muhyiddin has bent over backwards to please the current agong, the acquisitive sultan of Pahang.

Ordinary Malaysians, meanwhile, feel angry and ignored. The pandemic has emptied the exchequer and, Ms Welsh points out, revealed gaping holes in the safety net. Among the young, unemployment has reached nearly 12%. Mr Muhyiddin now hopes to get credit for a vaccination programme that is starting to pick up speed. Beyond that, little suggests the elites care to sort out popular concerns. On the contrary, bendera hitam supporters attempting to march on Parliament were stopped by police, who all too predictably are now probing the movement for evidence of sedition. There is no doubting Malaysia’s sense of crisis. Yet the stench of politics is still a long way from being cleared.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Flagging enthusiasm”

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Why do Republicans want to punish Facebook and Google? That's not conservative. – USA TODAY

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Don’t use Big Government to hammer tech billionaires. Do harness their platforms to push for conservative causes like gun rights and charter schools.

Since when did it become “conservative” to punish private companies for being successful? In recent years, a bizarre and ill-advised frenzy has gripped the right, which has focused intense efforts on breaking up or otherwise hamstringing social media companies. Conservative groups and their dedicated donors have spent vast amounts of money on these anti-“Big Tech” efforts. 

Meanwhile, this war on Silicon Valley is distracting the right from once-in-a-generation opportunities to tackle longstanding conservative priorities – in ways that would only be helped along by effectively using social media instead of lambasting it.

What has social media grievance politics yielded for Republicans? Florida Republicans tried to ax the First Amendment rights of tech companies to moderate content but were swiftly rebuffed by a federal judge. In Washington, swamp creatures are supposedly making plans to repeal the Section 230 protections for moderating online content, which would be a strange victory coming from the onetime party of tort reform. 

GOP once stood for choice and growth 

There also seems to be a buzz of general complaints that tech billionaires – who spend most of their time backbiting and trying to outdo one another, as the Jeff Bezos-Richard Branson space wars make clear – are somehow not competitive enough

The reality is that these people create a product that Americans can choose to use or not use. And Republicans used to be the party of free choice.

Attacking American innovators and job creators is usually a tactic of the radical left. The right has traditionally criticized its political opponents for this sort of grievance politics, which do not allow space for growth-focused policies. To justify taxing successful Americans, the left’s traditional playbook has been to vilify their success. Naturally, if you’re preoccupied with slicing the pie, you’re not focused on growing the pie. Republicans used to be the party of growth, too. 

That’s why the right’s current sideshow struggle against Big Tech, which puts Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on the same side as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., makes so little sense. Instead of focusing on free choice for our citizens and economic growth for our nation, the right has made enemies of companies that specialize in sharing cat photos and vacation videos.

There are so many better things the American conservative movement could be doing with its time, by taking advantage of our post-COVID moment. 

We need fair rules: Apple and Google totally control what you do on your smartphones 

The pandemic saw a major surge in starting small businesses, which are key job creators and drivers of economic growth

That’s hundreds of thousands of Americans who will, for the first time, butt up against brazen bureaucrats, unrelenting regulations and a torrent of blood-sucking taxes from federal, state and local authorities. This should be a treasure trove of new conservatives, the vast majority of whom also use social media to promote their businesses and sell their products. But they won’t flock to the GOP if they hear confusing anti-growth messaging that vilifies the online tools they use to promote their businesses.

Conservatives are a diverse group 

Meanwhile, the debate over the Second Amendment shows no signs of slowing down, and it looks like conservatives are getting some new recruits. Online surveys of firearm retailers by the trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation indicated that in the first four months of 2020, 4 in 10 pandemic first-time gun buyers were women, and gun purchases by African Americans in the first six months of last year were 58.2% higher than the same period in 2019.

These demographics suggest that pro-gun rights Americans are a lot less “pale, male and stale” than previously thought. But these folks also use social media to share their photos from the shooting range, so why make them feel like “bad conservatives” for doing so?

Left-to-right mistake: Sen. Josh Hawley isn’t a censorship victim, he’s a free speech menace

We may also be on the cusp of major education reform. Education Week reported in late June that over the pandemic, America’s public school systems lost more than 1.4 million students, noting the “loss was spread out across the nation, touching almost every demographic group and concentrated in lower grades. It will likely have academic, financial and staffing repercussions for years to come.” 

With alternatives like charter schools looking better and better, and teacher unions drawing ire from even liberal parents for holding up a return to normalcy in classrooms, parent groups should be organizing (on sites like Facebook) to take these issues on.

It’s often easy (and even cathartic) for conservatives to join in the ritual pillorying of some group that you may find annoying, like tech billionaires who, in their personal politics, do lean to the left.  But if the American right stopped and took a collective breath, they’d realize that sticking to their tried-and-true message of free choice and pro-growth policies – and focusing on issues that matter, like small business freedom, gun rights and education reform – are a much better recipe for success than using the hammer of Big Government to give the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos a black eye.

Bret Jacobson is the co-founder of Red Edge, a digital advocacy agency for conservative and center-right causes. Follow him on Twitter: @bretjacobson 

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Paul Quassa quits Nunavut legislature after 40 years in politics – CBC.ca

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Nunavut Speaker Paul Quassa has resigned from his role as MLA for Aggu.

The news was first reported by Nunatsiaq News. Quassa confirmed his resignation to the CBC and said he is done with politics. He said he’s been thinking about the decision since the spring.

“I really cherish the time that I spent [in] my life here at the Legislative Assembly,” Quassa said.

“I knew that I could do at least two terms. And once … that term is up, I think it’s high time that we see somebody else there. And I have great confidence in in the next person that’s going to be elected.”

Quassa was elected as the Nunavut premier in 2017, but was ousted in 2018, though he continued in his role as MLA for Aggu. 

He said he stayed on because he made a commitment to represent his community.

“No matter what happens, you just continue, keep going because you were elected … you’re representing your community. You cannot just stop there just because the other MLAs don’t agree with you,” he said. 

His resignation, which will be effective as of Aug. 13, comes just shy of the end of his term, with Nunavut’s general upcoming election scheduled for Oct. 25.

Quassa says he wants young people to come forward to run for leadership positions in Nunavut. (CBC)

Quassa said he wanted to give others the chance to be in leadership, and in particular, he encouraged young people to step forward and consider the opportunity of running for MLA.

“I thought this would be the right timing after talking with my family and my constituents, that it would be only right for me to step down and give other opportunities,” he said. 

“I believe that our young people should really go for it, because again, we have to remember that at least 60 per cent of our population is under 25. So, you know, that’s a big population to represent. And I think it is high time that we start getting new ideas, new challenges, and then young people can make that difference.”

Though he didn’t say specifically what he plans to do next, Quassa hinted it might be something in the public sphere.

“I’m looking forward to do something else where I can speak my mind on behalf of Inuit and Nunavut,” he said.

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