FREE WHITEWATER

On School Board Candidate Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart, as you may have read from his own news site the Whitewater Banner, is running for school board. He last sat on that board about ten years ago, and for twenty-odd years before that. More recently, he was a member of Whitewater’s Common Council.

His candidacy in 2015 is a puzzle, three times over: (1) it rests on the unsound assumption that one may be a newsman and a politician simultaneously, (2) that there is a need for his presence on the school board despite his own implications to the contrary, and (3) his downplaying of how far from the center he has been on many issues.

Readers here at FREE WHITEWATER know that I favor sound policy over personality.

I’ve no doubt that Mr. Stewart is a wonderful person, but elections in these times require candidates of contemporary thinking, boundless energy, the ability to assess details, to communicate articulately & persuasively, and with a faithful commitment to plain views.

Conflicts Between News and Politics. I’m not a newsman; I don’t want to be one. Mr. Stewart very much sees his site as a news site, and asks and expects the community to treat it that way.

Fair enough – I’m a free-speech advocate; Jim Stewart has a right to present himself as he wishes.

It’s simply odd, however, to deny that reporting the news and being a politician doesn’t present a conflict. No one thinks that Scott Walker should be both governor of Wisconsin and publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal.

(Let’s be clear – Gov. Walker, himself, wouldn’t think that was a good idea, and he’d probably be the first to say so. Mr. Stewart, who has been a Walker supporter, should adopt the governor’s stance and pick a role.)

Consider what this means: it means that one member of the school board would report to the community as news on what the entire board and district did. That’s not impartial news reporting – it’s an inherent advantage to one politician over others. The whole news site, in fact, would act as a kind of campaign advertisement for the politician-publisher. That Mr. Stewart has carried on this way while in office previously does not justify resuming the practice.

The idea that one simply ‘wears different hats’ is silly and unconvincing. However many hats one wears, they sit on the same head. Same thoughts, same intellect, same ideas, same man.

There is no reason – none – to believe that even the most advanced scientist (Isaac Newton, let’s say) could pull this off. If Sir Isaac couldn’t do it, one can guess that it’s not possible for those of us today, either. There is no reason to believe that any local publisher is more intelligent or discerning than Isaac Newton was.

All the rest is a conceit, unconvincing to anyone sensible.

Mr. Stewart should make a choice, as normal publishers and politicians across America would: politics or the news business?

No Compelling Justification for Running. Oddly, by Mr. Stewart’s own statements, it’s clear that he has no policy justification for running against Mr. McCrea or Mrs. Davis.

At his campaign website, Jim Stewart writes that, concerning the five characteristics of an effective school board, “We are fortunate that our School Board measures up well in these characteristics.”

As that is so, and by his own contention that the board has been acting soundly, then he has no claim to replace Dan McCrea. Dan McCrea has been one of the reasons the board has been effective, for goodness’ sake.

At the same time, at a recent campaign forum, Mr. Stewart helpfully reminded attendees that one could vote for two candidates, not one, as he sat next to Mrs. Davis. (Mr. McCrea was not in the room when Mr. Stewart said this.)

As that is so, and Mr. Stewart implies that Mrs. Davis would be a good choice, then he has no compelling reason to advance himself over her.

I’d suggest that voters take Mr. Stewart’s own implied endorsements, and select Kelly Davis and Dan McCrea.

One sees the point: Mr. McCrea and Mrs. Davis are more current on school policy, more energetic, and more powerfully expressive in support of their well-defined views.

Wanting a seat is not enough – there should be a compelling policy justification for his candidacy that Mr. Stewart simply does not offer.

It’s hard to tell which politics Mr. Stewart will really advance. As with the other candidates in the race, he offers a written statement online at http://www.lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html.

Reading through it, one encounters a large number of words, but far fewer actual positions. It’s the longest candidate statement, but simultaneously the least informative. Combined with his statements at candidate events, there’s both hedging and indirection in his responses.

Fiscal Management. Mr. Stewart promises that he’ll be a good fiscal manager, but his record has been one of big-government conservatism, of spending big on dubious projects.

As councilman, he supported tax incremental financing policies that led to Whitewater becoming one of few communities in the entire state with a distressed tax incremental district.

As a member of two economic boards, Mr. Stewart had oversight on an agreement with the federal government that prompted a cease and desist order from the Economic Development Agency for failure to understand basic conflict-of-interest provisions when awarding federal money to contractors.

Flacking endlessly for big-ticket projects has not helped ordinary people in this town meet basic educational and economic needs.

Big-government conservatism is a poor recommendation for these demanding, detail-oriented times. Genuine conservatism would not have committed big money to projects with small rewards.

Clear Views. Mr. Stewart supported Act 10, and has been a champion of those who have pushed that legislation. That’s his right.

Now, however, with an election close at hand, he’s observed that he’s not so sure about Act 10. He declares that it saved millions in public employees’ wages, but then he says he’s not so sure about it….

Mr. Stewart was for it, before (with an election approaching) he might now be kinda-maybe-possibly-a-little-bit-not-sure-if-he’s-against-it-possibly.

Hemming and hawing are poor recommendations for these demanding, detail-oriented times.

Transparency. Much talk is made of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system. I’d guess that politicians and commentators of Mr. Stewart’s partisan views have roundly criticized Mrs. Clinton.

That’s quite the coincidence.

As a council member, Mr. Stewart asked for an exception to use his own, private email for public business. In a close vote (in which he voted in his own favor rather than abstain), he was allowed to do so. He assured council members that he would turn over any email that was the subject of a records request.

Secretary Clinton assures us that she, too, will turn over all that’s required of her.

Let’s take them at their word.

One should not be surprised now, however, that Mr. Stewart dismisses open government with the offhand remark that “[t]he current buzz word is “transparency” in all actions of the board, especially for the non-parent group.”

Open government is no “current buzz word” [sic] and transparency doesn’t belong in ill-composed scare quotes.

We should always have open, transparent government.

Mr. Stewart has not been supportive of the same rules of open-government for all, having once sought an exception for himself.

His is a candidacy that’s both a poor fit for these demanding times, and puzzling for the conflict of interest it presents, the lack of a substantive justification, and an unwillingness to be direct about support for past spending priorities that contributed to our present difficulties.

Voters may choose two from among the three candidates running in the April 7th election.

It’s a clear choice from among the alternatives.

I’m supporting Kelly Davis and Dan McCrea for school board, and I hope you will, too.

Previously: On School Board Candidate Dan McCrea, On School Board Candidate Kelly Davis, and On the Whitewater Schools.

I’ll follow with further posts as events suggest.

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Sue
5 years ago

Summed up very well – explains the choices accurately.