Cabarrus Board of Education election likely to become partisan race
CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - In the last ten years North Carolina has been seeing a growing shift in how school board members are elected.
In 2013 only 15 counties allowed partisan elections for the school board. As of now, more than 40 counties have partisan elections for the Board of Education, and in the next few days that number could grow with Cabarrus County set to become the latest to make that change.
“Cabarrus has become more and more politically competitive in recent elections, so this is kind of a test of how far can partisanship be pushed at the local level,” said Political Scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College.
Bitzer says with the political polarization now evident across the country, this is something that was bound to happen.
“North Carolina, like the rest of the country, is heavily engaged in this polarization effect and the sorting dynamic of people going into their respective partisan tribes and this is just kind of a reflection at the grassroots level of the dynamics of partisanship, or polarization, of giving voters a cue, of party labels, but making the intensity of public policy decisions that much more polarized,” Bitzer added.
Republican representative Kevin Crutchfield had talked about filing a bill specifically to change the Board of Education race in Cabarrus County, but now supports an existing bill (https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2023/H88) that will likely be passed this week that includes Cabarrus.
“I’m not doing this for me. I’m not doing this for the Republican Party or the Democrat Party, I’m doing it to put transparency in the election and the vote back in the hands of the voters,” said Crutchfield, a freshman representative for Cabarrus County. “My purpose in doing this is to take the election process, the primary process out of the hands of the special interest groups, like the GOP, like the Democratic Party, and put it back in the hands of the voters.”
“This way the voters will have the choice in May, at the primary, to decide who they want to be their candidates going into the general election,” Crutchfield added. “It’s transparency through the entire process. It’s not a Republican deal, most people think it is, but on the other hand, if the scales were switched the other way and the Democrats had 8 candidates, then they would not have a chance to be represented on the board, so this is just really to balance the scales between the two parties.”
“I don’t think where you stand on national issues is especially important to school board issues,” said Scott Padgett, a former Concord Mayor and retired 30 year educator. “We say we’re putting students first, I don’t think this puts students first at all.”
Padgett says there was no public discussion and few people in Cabarrus knew this was even a possibility.
“There were no public hearings. No one had a say. No discussion,” Padgett said. “I sense that most people that really value education and think of the value of making decisions locally basically on what’s good for the children agree that it should be a non-partisan issue.”
“I’ve actually spoke about this for quite a while, I actually spoke about this at the Chamber of Commerce meeting they had where I actually announced to people that I was intending to put this bill forward, so I don’t know what else we could do,” Crutchfield said.
Padgett also pointed out that he believes this will put unaffiliated voters and candidates at a disadvantage. Under this new law, unaffiliated candidates would have to gather a large number of signatures to be put on the ballot for local Boards of Education.
“I can’t imagine why anybody would support that and think that’s fair, that’s just unfair,” Padgett said. “I think if more people knew about that today, right now, there would be a lot more people that would be very concerned about the issue.”
Crutchfield replied to that comment by saying that it was very rare for unaffiliated candidates to run for the Board of Education in Cabarrus County.
“Some say it puts independent voters at a disadvantage. There has not been an independent school board candidate elected in Cabarrus County in the last 20 years that I’m aware of,” Crutchfield said. “There’s a lot of great independent candidates out there that would be good school board members but I think they’re going to be forced kind of, to choose a party so that they can get elected and have a chance to be effective in the school board race.”
The bill was approved by the Senate last Wednesday by a vote of 27-18, Democrats voted against the bill. The bill is scheduled for the final vote on Wednesday.
“The bill has passed the Senate, it still needs final approval in the House, but that is very likely,” Crutchfield added.
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