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Peter’s Take: Democracy Wins in Democratic School Board Endorsement

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Peter RousselotThe Arlington Democrats School Board endorsement election produced many winners. The clearest winner was the strong affirmation of the benefits of challenges to incumbents by other Democrats.

As I wrote in my May 2 column, we need to encourage more Democrats to challenge our incumbents for the Democratic endorsement or nomination.

As ARLnow reported, James Lander, the incumbent Arlington School Board member running for re-election, won the Democratic endorsement — but only by 47 votes. He received 51 percent of the votes cast. As with any incumbent seeking re-election, both Lander’s record, and the record of the public body on which he serves, were issues discussed during the campaign — publicly or privately.

Without this secret ballot vote, neither Lander nor the School Board would have had the benefit of this Democratic voter feedback. Based on this important new information, they now can choose to make changes in what they have been doing.

Barbara Kanninen, a first-time candidate, deserves credit for challenging Lander. She almost won the endorsement, receiving 49 percent of the votes cast. Obviously, Kanninen raised issues that resonated with a very large minority of Democratic caucus voters. Several Arlington incumbents previously have lost elections by a wider percentage margin than she did.

Like Lander and the School Board, Kanninen now has the benefit of the voters’ verdict, together with the opportunity to draw valuable lessons from it. She clearly can run again and win — if she decides that is what she wants to do. (Disclosure: I publicly endorsed Kannninen.)

The Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) also deserves praise for the way in which ACDC organized, promoted, and conducted this endorsement caucus. Because of the provisions of Virginia law, political parties that want to endorse candidates for School Board do not have the option to endorse those candidates in primaries conducted by boards of elections at all regular polling places. (Contrary to frequent claims that “school board races are supposed to be non-partisan,” partisan endorsements are authorized in Virginia school board elections.)

Political parties do have the option of making such endorsements by a vote only of their managing committees. By choosing the endorsement caucus option instead, ACDC selected the option that offers the opportunity for the widest possible participation by Arlington Democrats. (Disclosure: I played a small role in administering a portion of the second day of the caucus.)

Increased numbers of challenges to incumbents by other Democrats will lead to more democracy and better public policy in Arlington.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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