GOP Push to Politicize School Board Races Gets Test

The GOP push to politicize school board races got its first test Tuesday, as voters in a small Ohio town were asked to choose between two candidates who have starkly different views on the role of government.

With union-backed Democrat John Husted opposed by staunch Republican Doug Smith, the small community of Indian Hill was not only considering which candidate would be best for their children’s education but also weighing President Donald Trump’s effort to put public schools back under the control of local communities.

Husted, the state’s former secretary of state and veteran prosecutor who has four children attending public schools in Indian Hill, is waging an uphill fight to hold onto a seat Democrats have controlled for 24 years. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a group dedicated to electing GOP candidates at all levels of government in Ohio and other key states, invested heavily in the race that it hopes will be a referendum on public education.

Smith, who has libertarian leanings, was inspired to run for office after he said his daughter had the wrong algebra teacher at her high school. He is part of a coalition of more than 50 Ohio school boards seeking to change how schools are run in their communities. The group, led by Larry Keough, of the Lakota school board, helped put a measure on the November 2016 ballot to radically change how the state’s more than 600 school districts are funded. Voters soundly rejected it.

I’m not against schools, said Smith, who is technology director for an insurance company. It just seems like there had to be a better way to do it.

Husted, the former state senator who sits on Indian Hill’s five-member school board, said he is troubled by Smith’s call for more parental control over education. Parents have enough responsibility already, Husted said. They need support from communities and elected leaders.

We are about building community in Indian Hill and strengthening our schools. The question we need to ask is who best will support the excellent education we’re providing for our kids and for kids across this state.

Husted said that as secretary of state he focused on issues like voter fraud that help protect the integrity of elections, while Smith has suggested voter identification laws are primarily designed to suppress voting by the poor and minorities.

It’s really in keeping with what he believes in, in that government should stay out of people’s lives, Husted said. Government is there to help them when they need it but otherwise leave them alone.

I’m somebody who gets out there and rolls up my sleeves every day, because I think public service is extremely important, he said.

Smith studied business and economics as an undergraduate at the University of Dayton before embarking on a career in sales and marketing with Procter & Gamble Co. He eventually ran his own company selling nutritional supplements over the Internet.

He’s now looking to use that experience to run for public office after seeing how schools are failing students.

Both Husted and Smith were selected by their respective party’s nominating committee to run in Tuesday’s special election, but neither candidate is on the ballot because they had no opposition in the regularly scheduled November election.