Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Endorsements may put us in foul trouble, but the school board election is too important not to take a shot. By Walter Pierce

In the seven years since this weekly newspaper’s inception, this is the first time it’s making endorsements of the political kind. We’ve endorsed bird feeders and blouses, but never candidates. We’ve even tacitly endorsed issues — public funding of non-governmental organizations, for example, and, most important, public education reform.

Political endorsements were routine when Independent Weekly publishers Steve and Cherry Fisher May owned The Times of Acadiana, back when it had teeth and was willing to bite. But, as Steve pointed out to me recently, it was a process fraught with risk: Invariably some candidate that seemed a slam dunk turned out to be an air ball.

Endorsements also pose the risk of alienating the paper from non-endorsed candidates, especially troublesome when the non-endorsed candidate wins the election. The cost-benefit ratio, in other words, is low.

Consequently, The Ind hasn’t, until now, made political endorsements. Across the board, in fact, endorsements by newspapers are steadily becoming an anachronism — a throwback to the days when the newspaper was the primary disseminator of information and the central forum for community dialogue. Papers were once regarded as authoritative sources for news, their editors reliable judges of complex issues, attuned to the community but willing to break with it. But the days when a newspaper’s endorsement was anticipated and disseminated by the candidate upon whom it bestowed its countenance are long gone.

When The Daily Advertiser endorsed George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, it read like a cynical play to Acadiana’s reddening political complexion, not a reasoned, principled stance. Bush winning Louisiana was a foregone conclusion.
So why start now? Because it’s important, and because Lafayette Parish has before it an opening to reconstitute the board with candidates who endorse reform, accountability and transparency — a board that will select the next superintendent, who could and should shape public education in Lafayette for years to come.

Maybe not since 1991, when voters were faced with the choice between Edwin Edwards and David Duke, has stepping into the political ring with endorsements been easier. A Duke governorship would have been a disaster for Louisiana. The status quo in public education in Lafayette Parish also poses a risk: that the painfully and inexcusably slow gains of the last decade-plus will become a stagnation from which our community will not recover. Lafayette is a top-five city in Louisiana. Our public education system should be, too.

There are six seats up for grabs on the school board. In three of those races an incumbent is on the ballot; three others are wide open. We’re endorsing only one incumbent, Hunter Beasley, who has consistently asked the right questions at school board meetings during his first term, although he frequently seems the odd man out on the panel, frustrated by the process, checked by conventional wisdom.

Beasley needs like minds on the board. Greg Davis in District 2, Tehmi Chassion in 4, Dean Landry in 5, Dudley LaBauve III in 6 and Thomas Brown in 7 will provide, in our view, the momentum the board needs to drive our public schools into the top 5 in the state.

Both Davis and Brown are black men running in majority white districts, and Davis’ opponent in District 2, which comprises Carencro proper, is a former five-term mayor of Carencro. It’s also a long-established political fact that unseating an incumbent is no mean feat. Consequently, it’s fair to say that four of our six endorsements, two thirds, face long odds — two must beat incumbents, the other two have to beat demographics.

Endorsements being what they are, none is a slam dunk. But none, in our view, will be an air ball.

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