Politics as (Un)usual
Ok, folks, we have an election coming up in less than three weeks, but you probably already knew that.
In light of this week’s leak that the Supreme Court’s fascist faction plans to take America back to the Dark Ages by allowing state governments decide whether women have rights, I hope you’re good and mad.
Most of us were educated that our greatest right as American citizens is our ability to vote for representation in our local, state, and federal governments—that the glorious notion of democracy itself depends us, WE the people, to inform ourselves of the issues and and the positions of each candidate on the ballot, then get ourselves to our assigned polling place on the appointed day and poke a screen or punch a chad to record our choice for whom we would like to spend our taxes and defend at family dinners.
It all sounds so simple.
Except, of course, America isn’t *technically* a democracy, and certain candidates have made it clear they would *actually* prefer the glamor and graft of dictatorship. And of course, the power-hungry minority doesn’t *really* want you voting, anyway.
The unprecedented unraveling of voting rights in the last few years indicates so much more autocracy to come. If this week’s leak of the Supreme Court’s draft to repeal Roe v. Wade has you gagging on your own intestines, wait ‘til they use that same reasoning to roll back LGBT marriage, birth control, and other fundamental human rights.
It’s harder than ever to be an American voter these days, what with the Orwellian villains cracking down on all that non-existent “fraud.” The church social hall that has served as your polling place for the last three decades may have been switched to some tennis courts in a town 30 miles away, and if you get thirsty waiting in line, forget about asking some nice lady for a bottle of water.
If you have trouble reading maps without Siri’s interpretation, lotsa luck trying to figure out your school board district, which is not the same as your county district, but the two can overlap. (Here in Chatham County, local officials tried to reconcile this Venn diagram of democratic disaster this year, but the state legislature dropped that ball, perhaps because they were so busy bullying trans kids and making sure nobody needs a permit to carry a loaded gun.)
As the great cultural scholar Jay-Z puts it, “this pain, this pain, politics as usual…”
So while you may *know* about the May 24 election, it’s understandable why you’d want to avoid the hassle. It’s not like there’s any huge headliners to draw the crowds like in 2020, when 61% of registered voters in Chatham showed up or sent in their absentee ballots to flip the Senate and turn a very red-faced Georgia purple.
Compare that to the 2019 election, which saw only 23% voter turnout for municipal races like the Savannah City Council—yet somehow 85% of the people on Facebook have a grievance with Mayor Van Johnson *shrug*
I guess presidential and congressional elections are more like a Broadway show and things like midterm primaries and school boards are the community theater of civic responsibility. (Sorry not sorry for the simile; we saw the astounding Hugh Jackman in The Music Man last weekend in NYC and I still haven’t recovered from sitting close enough to see the sweat on his brow.)
But anyone who’s seen, say, Savannah’s own Maggie Lee Hart perform—her 2014 turn as Little Edie in Grey Gardens will haunt me forever—knows that not only do her talent and visage bear an uncanny likeness to Sutton Foster, she demonstrates that there is no stage too small for relevant discourse. (Before we conclude this useful analogy of community theater’s rewards, I must say that I can’t wait to see what’s revealed in Savannah Stage Co.’s production of The Full Monty this fall.)
The point here, friends, is that we got our own trouble right here in River City, and this election is likely to affect how it’s dealt with than any contest in Washington, D.C.
The races spinning closest to our center is the Savannah-Chatham School Board, which unlike some districts of similar size and demographics, has the noteworthy distinction of not running a single QAnon nutjob on the ballot. Even if you don’t have kids, school board elections matter because undereducated children are more likely to grow up to be the adults you’ll complain about using even more of your tax dollars—whether it’s to pay for prison, welfare, or cleaning up vandalism. They also relate directly to property values, which is all anyone seems to care about these days.
On May 24, voters will choose a new school board president, plus seats for Districts 4, 5, 6, and 8. If you want to know if your district has a race on the ballot, you’ll have to figure out that shitshow for yourself, if you’ll excuse my phraseology.
The school board’s purview is fairly limited—they don’t decide what constitutes critical race theory or who says gay—but its leadership is meant to set policies, implement state education laws, and oversee the superintendent’s performance. While the school board president has the same voting power as other board members, this person sets the tone and culture for the district, which between a teacher shortage and a total breakdown in the bus system at the beginning of this year, has been less than hunky-dory.
I attended a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia with the three candidates—Roger Moss, Todd Rhodes, and Tye Whitely—and found each of them compelling and competent in their appeals:
Roger Moss has the most recognition and educational achievement in our community through his involvement in the Savannah Children’s Choir and the Savannah Classical Academy as well as countless other civic contributions. He is a passionate proponent of school choice, and voters either adore or revile his avid support of charter schools and merit-based placement, which he promotes as the way for students to succeed regardless of their economic backgrounds.
As the owner of an early childhood educational center with decades of involvement in public schools, Tye Whitely focuses her platform on the district's youngest students, arguing that prioritizing them will reap measurable improvements, as will diverting administrative costs to provide teachers with more resources. Some parents wholly support her commitment to reducing standardized testing while others worry about the loss of universal education benchmarks.
In addition to his roles as a community coach and self-made entrepreneur, Todd Rhodes is raising ten—yessir I said TEN—children with his wife, which may or may not qualify him to handle the almost billion dollar SCCPSS budget but certainly speaks to his organizational skills and fearless zest for life. While his website lacks a concrete platform, he spoke sincerely of re-establishing communication between teachers and parents to create a better community culture.
As a parent at the imminent end of 16 years of kids in SCCPSS schools, I am still parsing my own perspective, and everyone I’ve spoken to with a dog—er, child—in this race has valid and personal reasons for their endorsement. Please make your own informed choice by visiting the candidate’s sites directly or watching the sparks fly between friends on Facebook.
All of us will also be voting on two posts for our local Board of Elections; the four races are divided by party affiliation. As it makes absolutely not a lick of sense to me how a rabidly partisan entity is meant govern *non-partisan* elections, please check out Will Peebles’ concise assessment of the candidates.
State legislature primaries are also on the upcoming ballot, and now that SCOTUS is making state’s rights great again, representation in the Georgia General Assembly is more important than ever. As you know, Georgia’s abortion ban has been waiting in the wings since 2019, but a shift in leadership could change the weather come November.
The Georgia Assembly doesn’t just hate women and poor people; it makes vital decisions governing public schools, protecting our fragile coastal ecosystems, and whether people have any actual rights left—and is comprised of the people who will be working under Stacey Abrams when she becomes governor *raises fist*. (There can’t be many reading this, but those of you voting in the gubernatorial Republican primary on March 24, enjoy choosing between the “I didn’t know COVID was contagious” incumbent and his Big Lie-lovin’ challenger.)
As much as I’d delight in seeing District 1 senator Dr. “Women Definitely Should Not Govern Their Own Bodies” Ben Watson unseated, but unless he gets himself pregnant—which would be his own fault, right?—it’s fairly unlikely. But the District 2 spot vacated by Lester Jackson—who’s now running for Labor Commissioner—is anyone’s game, though literal Boy Scout Derek Mallow appears to have the most signage and support as he gives up his House seat to make a running leap for the state Senate.
Mallow’s empty spot will end up occupied by one of two formidable women: Anne Allen Westbrook, who lost to Mallow in 2020 by only 19 votes, has garnered much momentum for her commitment to reducing gun violence, restoring voting rights, and expanding healthcare—which includes addressing Georgia’s shocking maternal mortality crisis. With a devoted following of her own, Mahogany Bowers has collated a breadth of experience as a performer, media personality, and philanthropist, concentrating her platform on job readiness, adult education, and a light rail system to connect Savannah to Atlanta.
Then there are the federal primaries. The good Rev. Raphael Warnock has been busy making Georgia and America better since he was elected a U.S. Senator with his movie star-twin Jon Ossoff in 2020, and it’s a drag that he has to take time away from his actual job to campaign. I’m sure Democratic challenger Tamara Johnson-Shealey has her reasons for trying to upset the beloved Reverend’s base, but let’s just make sure Warnock on the ballot this November to face whatever ball is thrown (or runs) his way.
Lastly, there’s the District 1 House of Representatives. I’ve been following this one closely ever since local attorney and salt-of-the-earth citizen Wade Herring announced he would run against Earl “Buddy” Carter, the Big Pharma puppet still denying climate change, who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election with a smile and says he’d do it again, whose recent newsletter included asinine jewels like “Hunter Biden’s laptop was real” and “Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if Donald Trump were still in charge,” who—unless you love fascist dictators or are trying to score opioids—is not your buddy.
The two other Democratic challengers for this race, Joyce Riggs and Michele Munroe, both have impressive military resumes and platforms that support economic, environmental, and reproductive justice. However, it’s my opinion that Wade—with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the Progressive Turnout Project, and elected officials past and present and who is building regional support among moderate Republicans as a viable alternative—has the best shot at pushing Buddy off his throne in November. Wade’s a smart gent who would represent Georgia fairly, and would never, ever vote against civil liberties like Buddy has for his entire political career.
So that’s my hot take on—and gentle goading to vote in—the May 24 election. This petri dish we’re still calling democracy needs every single one of us.
Because while it’s always exciting to take in the occasional big Broadway showstopper, it will always be community theater that gets us through.
VOTE on May 24 ~ JLL
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