Friday, October 3, 2014

It's Political Season At TUSD. Caveat Emptor.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Is there anyone foolish enough to watch an ad from McSally supporters attacking Barber, or from Barber supporters attacking McSally, and think it's the absolute, unvarnished truth? Is there anyone who thinks when a 1975 DUI against a House candidate in, say, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, shows up a month before the election, the timing is a coincidence?

If so, I've got some beautiful beachfront property on Speedway you might be interested in buying. It's a real bargain, and I have lots of offers already.

It's political season, right? Every statement that could affect the election should have a big Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) label slapped across it. There may be a kernel, or a few kernels, or lots of kernels of truth in what you hear and read, but there's a reason you're hearing and reading about it now and it's wrapped up in a package carefully designed for maximum impact. Someone is trying to get your vote.

But somehow, even thinking people who pay careful, critical attention to politics don't scrutinize information about TUSD around election time with the same jaundiced eye. Too many people react to a sudden explosion of bad news with, "What did you say? Something terrible, something catastrophic is about to happen at TUSD? Oh my God! The sky is falling!" "You say board member Jones or candidate Lopez is the only person who can avert the catastrophe? Thank God there's someone out there who can make everything right!"

A deputy superintendent who's leaving the district and may, or may not, have a score to settle sends out a worst-case-scenario forecast that TUSD will be $15 million in the hole by the end of the year, and he does it at the request of someone running for the board on a platform that the district is heading for disaster and needs to change direction. Is the report an objective assessment of a district that's dug itself deep into a financial hole? It's possible. Or is the report a politically motivated statement to cast the superintendent and his supporters on the board in the worst possible light? That's possible too. Either way, what better time to drop a hair-on-fire disaster report than a week before the early ballots are dropped in the mail?

Before voters take the report at face value and assume it's an objective analysis of the district's financial state, they need to ask themselves, who will benefit if voters believe it? Then they can listen to what others say about the report, weigh the evidence on both sides and make up their minds.

A group of administrators write an anonymous letter raking the superintendent and his supporters on the board over the coals. We don't know how many administrators participated, and we don't know if anyone helped them write the letter, but we do know they have lots of damning things to say. Did they just happen to reach their boiling point right now, a month before the election, and fire off a letter filled with righteous indignation, or did they time the email and tailor the message so it would do the most damage to board members who support the superintendent?

There's a hard-fought battle going on for the two open seats on the TUSD school board. Five candidates and their campaigns are working especially hard to get your vote: Democrats Adelita Grijalva, Jen Darland and Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, and Republicans Michael Hicks and Debe Campos-Fleenor. The three Democrats are spending their time putting up signs, knocking on doors, holding house parties, posting on Facebook — things like that. The two Republicans are doing some or all of those things as well, but they're also running a scorched earth campaign to trash the superintendent and the current board majority, and they have the able and energetic assistance of board member Mark Stegeman, who has contributed a total of $2,400 to their campaigns, doubled or tripled the number of "constituent newsletters" he sends out to his email lists (always sounding professorially objective and always slanting the information in favor of his two chosen candidates) and is, unless I miss my guess, playing puppet master, pulling their strings and creating their campaign strategies.

Nothing wrong with any of the candidates' strategies, of course. It's political business as usual. But voters need to recognize it's exactly that: political business as usual.

Caveat emptor, folks. Listen to all the candidates and all the information about TUSD coming out right now and form your own judgements, then vote for the two people you think will be best for the district. Don't take what you read and hear at face value, from any candidate or any other source (present company included).

BONUS ANALOGY FEATURE: I bought a new car recently. I went to two dealerships, where the salesmen swore to me their car was the best on the market in terms of quality and value. Realizing they couldn't both be right, this [obvious] insight occurred to me: both salesmen were more interested in their commissions than my best interests. So I listened carefully to everything they said, much of which was factual, and took it under advisement, then did my own research. I decided one of the cars was better suited to my needs than the other — not as good as the salesman said, but better than my other choice. When I sealed the deal on that vehicle, the salesman grinned enormously, shook my hand vigorously and said, "Congratulations, you just bought a great car!" I imagine he meant it. But I also imagine he chanted to himself as he skipped merrily back to his office was, "I sold a ca-ar. I got a comish-ion. I sold a ca-ar. I got a comish-ion." (It's a good car, by the way. No complaints.)

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