GEORGE KENNEDY: Differences emerge between candidates vying for school board, Fifth Ward

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 4:14 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The politics of nonpartisan elections was on vivid display Tuesday evening at the public library, where those good citizens in the League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates and issues on the April 5 ballot.

(It was a cold and rainy night, but I went so you wouldn’t have to. No need to thank me. It’s a journalist’s role. Besides, there were cookies and coffee free for the taking.)


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Politics has turned personal in the contest to succeed Laura Nauser as Fifth Ward representative on the City Council. Glen Ehrhardt and Helen Anthony don’t appear to like each other.

As he recited his resume in his opening statement, he noted that he is “the only candidate in this race” to have voted for the downtown surveillance cameras, to have voted for Bob McDavid for mayor and to have won endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce. She, while stressing her expertise in planning and zoning, accused him of being “divisive” and of having influential friends rather than relevant service.

Earlier, one of her supporters muttered in my ear that he’s is a “Tea Partier.” Later, one of his told me in an e-mail that the charge itself is divisive as well as being untrue.

They’re both smart people, both experienced attorneys, both well financed and expertly advised. They were seated side by side, but the distance between them would have accommodated an iceberg.

The competition for three seats on the Columbia School Board is more complicated if less hostile. There are six candidates, including two incumbents. To win in a race like that, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.  The two who stood out Tuesday, for very different reasons, were Dave Raithel and Sara Dickson.

He introduced himself as holding a doctorate in philosophy and being currently unemployed, after a career that includes stints as a substitute teacher and, most recently, vineyard worker. He described himself as sometimes “polemical” but never dull.

Her campaign literature and her comments make clear that she is the “Christian conservative voice” in the field. Responding to a voter’s question, she was the only candidate to rule out seeking a tax increase. She also favors a review of the history curriculum to make sure it does justice to the role of Christianity.

It’s easier to imagine her finishing in the top three, but he’d be a lot more entertaining.

Among the other four — incumbents Tom Rose and Jonathan Sessions and challengers Helen Wade and Liz Peterson, I had trouble spotting any differences of substance. All are proud of our schools. All want to improve student achievement. All would be willing to raise taxes if necessary. All seemed knowledgeable and serious.

All six agreed that hard decisions lie ahead. For us voters, choosing three may be hard enough.

I wrote last week about being impressed by three of the First Ward council candidates. Pam Forbes, Mitch Richards and Fred Schmidt are different in background and personality, but similar in their energy and commitment to service. This time, the fourth contestant, Darrell Foster, joined them.

As the only black candidate, and nearly the only person of color in the room, he got a laugh by pointing out that electing him would certainly add diversity to the council. He was serious, though, about representing an underserved minority. I’m still glad I don’t have to choose among the four.

Enthusiasm and attendance had both diminished by the time Bob Roper came forward to promote the ballot issue that would establish salaries for council members. His posture and his tone suggested that he knows he’s pushing a boulder up a steep and slippery hill. He pointed out that of the state’s 10 biggest cities, only Columbia doesn’t pay. We seem to like it that way.

I’ve left out the hospital board and the power plant purchase, I know, but it was a long night. Still, in the company of sincere advocates, engaged citizens and Girl Scout cookies, the time was well spent.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Tim Dance March 13, 2011 | 8:39 p.m.

""" Later, one of his told me in an e-mail that the charge itself is divisive as well as being untrue."""

First, calling out someone who clearly referred to a divisive wedge issue of a year ago, does not make you divisive.

Secondly, isn't this the same guy that had that FOIA request for Karl Skala's receipts, then all this ended up on Kespohl's web site?

Sounds pretty divisive to me.

(Report Comment)
Dave Raithel March 16, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

"All seemed knowledgeable and serious."

Can I not be entertaining but knowledgeable and serious too?

Here is what most distinguishes me from my opponents: With all due respect to them as decent people with good intentions, I am not of the people who have put the world into the predicament it is. I am, objectively speaking, a failure. I have no money, no power, no status. Oh, I have a very good life. I have healthy sons who have done and do well in school - one is already a college graduate. I have a wife who loves me. I do not go hungry or sleep in the rain. I get to play music and work in my garden. Being unemployed for the first time in my life only means I am one of 15 million? 20 million? - nobody knows how to count the unemployed anymore - people that capitalism does not know how to use. But my having a good life is very different from me ever having had an effect on the way of the world.

I am, and have most always been for my adult life, the outsider looking in. I am the powerless ignored objecting voice fecklessly counseling the successful people of the world not to do as they do and have done. From the "Reagan Revolution" to our contemporary economic miasma, from Grenada to Afghanistan, I have been on the losing - but I very much believe - right side of history.

I am an alien in my own country, in my own state, in my own town. I don't even talk like my opponents, if you listen very carefully to what I say, even when we agree on what the district must do in practice, or what considerations weigh on our thinking. I never say things like "I want our district to be the best there is" because I know it is easy to be best when everyone else is not very good. I say things like: I want a district that is as good as any can be. It would not matter to me that every district was just as good, so long we are all as good as a district can be...

Now, if people are pleased with the way of the world, then by all means, choose a candidate who fits well into it. I do not fit well into it. If, however, you are someone not content with the way of the world; if you perceive that some things just are not right about the district no matter how much good you see in it for you and yours; and most especially, if you perceive that the district does not do right by you and yours, then consider an experiment: elect a failure to the Board, and see what might be done differently.

I sincerely believe that I cannot muck things up any more than the successful people of the world have mucked things up, and so you will lose nothing.

But you won't know what good a failure might accomplish if you keep deferring to the counsel of the successful people who have money, status, and power.

Dave Raithel

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