Should the Arlington County Civic Federation tell political parties they shouldn’t engage in endorsing candidates for technically nonpartisan School Board seats?
Apparently, that has been the position of the organization, if a not well-known one, for more than 70 years.
Delegate Michael Beer noted at the organization’s June 14 meeting that the Civic Federation in 1950 had “called on political parties to refrain from endorsing candidates” for School Board.
The recommendation came during the brief window from the late 1940s to the early 1960s when Arlington (alone among Virginia localities) had permission from the General Assembly to elect School Board members. Previously, they had been appointed by the Circuit Court.
The legislature rescinded that election authority around the time of the state government’s “Massive Resistance” efforts against court-mandated integration of public schools in the late 1950s. Neither Arlington not any other Virginia locality was allowed to again elect School Board members until the 1990s.
These days, the Arlington County Democratic Committee effectively acts as a gatekeeper for School Board elections; no one has won the post without first getting the Democratic endorsement since independent David Foster’s twin victories in 1999 and 2003.
For about a year, some advocates have been pressing the Arlington County Democratic Committee to abandon (or significantly revamp) its caucus process. But when push came to shove in a vote in February, the Democratic leadership voted overwhelmingly to keep the endorsement process. A few changes to the procedure were announced in subsequent months.
At the June 14 Civic Federation meeting, Arlington NAACP president J.D. Spain Sr. – who was among those leading efforts to eliminate the Democratic School Board caucus – asked if the federation’s governance-reform panel would delve into the issue between now and when a final report is released in the fall.
Chris Wimbush, who led the Civic Federation’s TiGER [Task Force in Governance and Election Reform] effort, replied that getting involved in political-endorsement processes was not part of the task force’s mandate.
But with several months left before the final report is sent to Civic Federation members for consideration, that potentially could change.
The TiGER panel’s recommendations, if approved by the federation membership, are merely advisory in nature, and there would be no way to force political parties to make changes in their candidate-selection process.
The Arlington County Republican Party and Arlington Green Party traditionally have been unable or uninterested in fielding School Board nominees, leaving the general election to the Democratic candidates and, some years, independents of various stripes.