Yesterday the Governor announced the appointment of Tricia Johnson and Teresa Birge to serve on the School Board. It has been about a month since I’ve posted anything on the School Board Nominating Commission. What have we learned in that time about the SBNC process?

Here are some facts that I think are interesting:

  • 21 people originally applied to compete for the two open slots on the Board; by the time the SBNC voted, only 13 were still in contention.
  • On May 5, 2008, the SBNC voted to require a supermajority for nomination to the school board. When they voted on the candidates on May 12, 2008, two candidates received a majority of votes but without receiving the two-thirds necessary for nomination. Rules do make a difference.
  • The SBNC said it would follow the precedent of the Judicial Nominating Commission (which appoints judges in Maryland) and only seek to vet the qualifications of school board candidates. Its behavior suggests otherwise. How else can one explain that Paul Rudolph was not vetted as qualified by the SBNC? After all, Paul was twice selected by the School Board Nominating Convention, was twice selected by the Governor to serve on the School Board, and was selected by his fellow school board members to serve as president of the School Board. The SBNC’s rejection of Tom Frank raises a similar question, as Tom was previously one of two candidates nominated by the School Board Nominating Convention.
  • It is hard to assess how much strategic voting there was among SBNC members (strategic voting occurs when someone doesn’t vote their sincere preferences). Strategic voting for a candidate would be least expected when the preliminary vote was 7-3 because with a two-thirds majority requirement the eighth vote becomes the swing vote and an insincere vote becomes costly. My overall impression is that there was surprisingly little strategic voting, although in at least one case it was clearly evident.
  • The press and public demonstrated to the SBNC that it could willfully violate both the spirit and letter of the Open Meetings Act without paying a price.
  • The candidates who won had nothing critical to say of AACPS. Future candidates: take heed.

Based on these observations, here are some predictions for the future:

  • There will be continuing pressure within SBNC to drop the pretense of vetting candidates and move to nominating just two candidates for each open position. In this way, the SBNC can maximize its power.
  • There will be continuing pressure within SBNC to drop its candidate-by-candidate voting and select a slate in the backroom, which it would then vote up-or-down in public. In this way, SBNC members can avoid public scrutiny and accountability for their actions.
  • Fewer serious candidates will apply for open seats. In the extreme case, when an incumbent running for re-election has not alienated any powerful interest groups, no serious contenders will emerge.
  • Successful candidates will play the inside rather than outside game. Electoral politics generally encourages politicians to play the outside game; members of Congress, for example, routinely run for Congress by running against Congress; presidential candidates typically run for office by running against business-as-usual in Washington. This is not going to be a successful strategy for candidates running for the school board. No mavericks need apply.
  • The SBNC will ignore its own bylaws and the Open Meetings Act when it deems them to be a nuissance, and there will be no public penalty for doing so, as long as a violation is done reasonably discreetly and with due consideration to create conditions for plausible deniability. The SBNC will continue to publicly pronounce its fervent devotion to the norms of openness and accountability–while conducting as much business as it reasonably can through private email correspondence, which is exempt from the openness requirements of the Open Meetings Act.
  • To the extent that backroom politics dominate the school board selection process, this will remain unreported.