There’s an old adage that says, “all politics are local”—this is true, especially during spring election season in Wisconsin. While gubernatorial, state legislative, and federal races are always fall elections (with the exception of the occasional special election), most elected officials focus on doing the work associated with their respective offices and campaign managers rest or transition to other work. Spring elections–especially when there is no statewide judicial candidate—occur with little fanfare, political party support, or high dollar donations as the races are for municipal and circuit court judges and local school/village offices.

But leave it to Wisconsin to upend that tradition. For the first time in modern history—at least since I can remember—a big tent party chose to back a non-partisan office holder. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s backing of State Superintendent-Elect Jill Underly made an otherwise unadulterated race politically charged, disappointing members of both the Republican and Democratic parties. The mud-slinging that has become par for the course in partisan elections spilled over into the superintendent’s race; which elevated questions about resumes, racial equity, and raised from the dead the thirty-year old debate of school vouchers versus traditional public schools.

Milwaukee was not immune from this phenomenon. In races for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association backed candidates as did the Democratic Socialists of America. In these races, skilled tacticians criticized candidates for receiving donations and endorsements from supporters of both political parties. It was one for ages indeed.

I wonder what will result from the carnage of politicizing the non-partisan. Have we opened a Pandora’s Box? Will this become the norm? Was this a “one and done” phenomenon? 

What is already apparent is that Superintendent-Elect Underly will not have a “honeymoon period”; the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly has already vowed to block funding for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a move that sets the stage for an already contentious relationship with the agency to become toxic. This will most definitely be felt by the civil servants working for the agency and the policies and practices they oversee.

As an educator, I want the best for our state’s students. After the year teachers and families have experienced they deserve nothing but the best resources and opportunities. As a legislator, it is my duty to continue to advocate for equity for students, regardless of which party is in control of an agency or office. We cannot afford to become so entrenched in our political ideologies that we lose sight of the people we serve.

It’s like John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee) represents the 12th Assembly District.

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