A better vision, part 3: Wave a sign Saturday to celebrate the political competition our kids deserve

If you’ve had any interest in this campaign, if you’ve wanted to be part of this energy for change, I’m asking you to do an hour or so of sign-waving Saturday morning. I need you. Let me say that again, I need you. Let’s get as big a crowd as we can and show who has the energy heading into Election Day.

We’ll be either at the Lakeland Southgate Publix at 10 a.m. on South Florida Avenue. Or the Winter Haven Publix at 884 Cypress Gardens Boulevard. Please Facebook message or email me if you can take part at either location. Bring friends. Wear green if you can. We’ll have signs.

Moreover, let’s celebrate together what we’ve already accomplished. Remember, less than nine months ago, the Kathryn LeRoy era was steaming onward. And most of Polk County not directly involved in schools had tuned out the misery and despair.

It looks very different now. Real political competition has made it different.

We School Board candidates — 9 of us showed up — had an excellent forum yesterday at the Lake Ashton Republican Club. The questions were good. The answers were sharp and substantive. Records were critiqued and defended. Policies floated. Ideologies discussed. The organizer of the event called it the best forum she’d ever heard. I find it hard to disagree. Indeed, I emerged from it with a burst of new energy.

That’s because competition works better in politics — and the distribution of power — than it does in almost any other area of human endeavor.  It certainly works much better than it does in the actual practice of education.

How competition can create consensus

Here’s an object lesson:

My incumbent opponent broke a little news yesterday in claiming that our superintendent has committed to launching a community testing task force, similar to that undertaken by St. Johns County. I will hold him and district leadership to that commitment, whether I win or lose on August 30.

Those of you who have followed the campaign closely may know that Citizens for Better Educational Leadership (CBEL) was pushing for just such a task force back in the spring. You can see that here. We didn’t get any help from Mr. Berryman at the time. Now it’s a centerpiece of his campaign message.

That’s what competition does. If I hadn’t run, do you think he’d be supposedly demanding that Jackie Byrd establish the St. Johns County task force model? Do you think he’d be talking about teacher morale on his mailers? No. Competition crystallizes and drives priorities. Some people don’t like to hear their ideas and language come out of other people’s mouths. I do. It’s the sincerest form of power. It’s the construction of consensus through competition.

We should compete and suffer for this power

This has been a tough campaign. Mr. Berryman is a distinguished man and citizen with an undistinguished record as a School Board member. I do not believe that record suggests that he will act assertively on the priorities that we apparently share.

As the challenger and advocate for change, I’ve had to make that point over-and-over again, often within feet of Mr. Berryman himself. I’ve made it in my mailers. On TV. On radio. On this website. On iPhone videos. On billboards. This is not really a pleasant experience for anyone.

But we’re competing for the right to serve our kids and our home. Our kids and home deserve honest and tough debate. Our kids and home deserve competition that makes us suffer for them. Our teachers certainly suffer for them. We should, too.

With one brief, unimportant exception, Mr. Berryman and I have maintained cordial and dignified personal relations even while this intense competition has been unfolding. That’s a credit to him, considering that I’ve generally been the critique.  And if I’m fortunate enough to win on August 30, I hope someone just as tough as me critiques my record and forces me to defend it publicly in 2020. The people over whom we would assume power deserve that in every election. If we had it over the last 10-12 years, we’d be in a much better place.