A small man with a giant bank account

My incumbent opponent just gave himself $50,000 so that he can run attack ads and mailers against me for the rest of the election. If you’re counting at home, that means he’s “raised” a grand total of about $124,000 (about $60k of it his own money) for a job that he does not even want to do, if his performance is any indication.

For instance, he couldn’t bring himself to spend an evening hour at either recent community meeting about the Stigmatized 5 schools that he’s ignored for his entire 4-year term. He seems much more interested in me. That’s an odd priority, especially for someone trying to pass off my ideas as his own as quickly as he can.

I don’t know that I have ever seen a more perfect metaphor for the laziness and entitlement that has infected our School Board and its enablers. If you want to know why America is in anti-establishment mood, look no further than Hunt Berryman’s wounded ego.

Indeed, I would bet that never in the history of Polk County elections has one candidate dropped $50K of his own money solely to fund attacks on another. I admit it’s both flattering and disconcerting.

The issue

Concerning the content of the ads, I should get this out of the way. Everybody who has ever read Lakeland Local knows that I consider our prohibition-driven national Drug War an abject failure. It kills too many people. It fills our jails unnecessarily with people of all ages, but especially the young. And it strains relations between police and the public. I have been studying, writing, and thinking about this in great depth and publicly for years. I do not use drugs. I do not approve of their use. But I approve less of unnecessary death, disorder, and incarceration.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Berryman’s ad appears to misstate my actual position, which has evolved over time. I think America should treat marijuana legally like alcohol. And I think we should decriminalize other drugs, much like the very successful and humane model in Portugal.

In 10 years, this position will not be controversial. But I tend to think ahead. And as an attack ad aimed at people not paying close attention, I recognize the potential for this to hurt me. It could also help me with segments of the electorate. I honestly don’t know how it will play out.

But I always knew that a shorthand attack on my drug policy writings at Lakeland Local was my greatest vulnerability in a Polk County election. The only way to avoid it entirely was not to run. My conscience wouldn’t let me avoid that duty. My conscience would not allow Hunt Berryman to waltz back into an important job he obviously doesn’t want to do. There’s too much at stake. I also know that my vulnerabilities grow out of my greatest strengths as a candidate and person. And I like who I am.

Of course, national drug policy is not set by the Polk County School Board; so you may wonder how this relates to this campaign. I do too; but I’m not going to waste time on that wondering. I’m on the right side of morality and history in this position. If Mr. Berryman wants to raise my position on prohibition in any of our face-to-face debates to come, I’m happy to discuss it. I will win that debate. And I will win converts in the audience. I always do. But that won’t really matter to its TV effect.

An unhinged mailer — with a clear lie

If you get Hunt’s new self-funded mailer, I encourage you to take look at it. It is unhinged. It’s the voice of a very angry person, who is not thinking very clearly.

It also includes a number of clear lies. Here’s one. It attacks me by saying “promotes federal control and funding.” I’m really not entirely sure what that even means. Maybe Hunt wants to get rid of Title 1 money? Anyway, I’ve written repeatedly about the failures of the federal No Child Left Behind law. I’ve been very critical of federal education policies under the Obama administration. So this is dishonest and silly.

Hunt also calls me “a divisive out-of-control demagogue.” This is from a man who has yelled at me twice in public during the campaign and threatened to expose my “associations” in a different event. This is from a man using $50,000 of his own money — nicely subsidized by his $40,000/year School Board salary — to demagogue long, well-researched drug policy articles I wrote in 2011.

We have a bit of projection going on here.

Without courage, no other virtue is worth a damn 

I  hope you’ll allow a moment of personal indulgence. I’m an historian. I wrote a book largely about alcohol prohibition and the violence associated with it in my hometown of Palatka. It has informed the views that Hunt is trying to exploit for his personal benefit. I know that ending alcohol prohibition in 1933 set off the safest three decades in American history for police and citizens alike. I think that’s an important fact to know. I make no apologies for working hard to know it. That’s the point of education.

In the process of writing my book, I learned that both of my great grandfathers in 1922, as the Florida Ku Klux Klan rose in power, ran for public office to fight it. Both men lost. They weren’t afraid of losing the fights that need to be fought.

Indeed, one of those great grandfathers, J. V. Walton, spent the next decade of his life risking everything he had to fight — and eventually beat — the Klan.

My grandfather, Bill Townsend, Sr. fought the Nazis in the Hedgerows. My grandfather Woody Pate had a cross burned in his yard in 1960s Shreveport, Louisiana. My father Bill Townsend, Jr. bled in Vietnam, because he went out on strike for better conditions as a teacher in 1968. My entire family helped remove a corrupt sheriff who abused women in 1980s Palatka.

Creation blessed me with a mind that can see hard problems and imagine solutions. But my forebears bequeathed to me the demand that I do something meaningful with it, even if it carries risks. Indeed, J.V. Walton once told my dad that “without courage, no other virtue is worth a damn.”

It’s true that Hunt Berryman’s angry rantings and cash flow don’t measure up to those adversaries. And it’s true that I risk little else but losing. But I love my home and its people. And I’m never afraid to lose on its behalf.

Whatever happens Nov. 8, I will never stop bending my mind toward ideas that could make a better world, country, and community for my children and grandchildren. My family and personal history demands it. On November 9, I’m still going to be me. And Hunt will still be Hunt. This election has shown me that I like my side of that.


3 thoughts on “A small man with a giant bank account

  1. The mere fact that a School Board member does not show up to the turnaround schools meetings SPEAKS VOLUMES. Mr. Berryman is one of the individuals who brought LeRoy to this county. He rubber stamps everything and has only recently, because of you Mr. Townsend, started taking an active role. His ideas come from yours and nothing is original. Forward with Townsend for School Board District 1. Let the people speak volumes in the upcoming election.

  2. I have not seen the latest balderdash spouted by Hunt Berryman, but I can tell you this. He is scared. He feels this election slipping from his grasp and he takes that personally. I can also tell you that in my, albeit limited, experience around him, he has no intention of delivering the ideas that he is blatantly “borrowing” from Billy Townsend.

    He cares not about the plight of the 4000 students in the #PolkCounty5. He cares not about the disgraceful treatment of dedicated teachers. His is out of date and out of touch, both in education and some might argue reality! In the next few weeks, we must push forward, we must talk to our friends, neighbors and community members and we must secure votes for Billy Townsend.

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