Words matter more, party matters less, and other observations from the 2018 Charleston midterm elections 

Moving forward, rising above

1. Women. All across our country, diverse, capable, fearless women from both parties sought and won political office by charting their own course and demanding their voices be heard. First, a record number of women will serve in Congress, with several als marking historic firsts for racial, religious, or sexual orientation. Secondly, 60 percent of women across the country voted for a Democratic House candidate this year, compared to 49 percent in 2016, according to the Washington Post. When Democrats take control of the House in January, it is due in large part to the efforts of women.

2. Party affiliation is fast becoming a catch-all for all sorts of misconceptions and generalizations. I call it bumper sticker politics because it forces us to put people into little boxes that describes them in five words or less. While listening to Kelly Golden on 94.3 the morning after the election, the host went down the list, issue by issue explaining what Democrats and what Republicans stand for as if she was trying to dumb it down for a group of third graders. No nuance, no gray area, and absolutely no context.

As a small business owner who works 60 hours a week, employs full and part time staff, and pays my fair share of taxes — the stereotypes and divisive language gets old. As a reputable media outlet, I was hoping for a more well rounded discussion. It is possible to fight for progressive ideas and at the same time support our military, be patriotic, push for immigration reform, fight for common sense gun laws, and advocate for increased health care coverage in a fiscally responsible manner. On the flip side, it is also possible for a conservative to have empathy and understand that immigration is not a zero sum game where everyone trying to enter our country is a criminal or terrorist. It is possible for a conservative to advocate the need for a government that is both responsive and effective and recognize that publicly funded programs have a place in our civil society. We are all guilty of talking more than listening, but if we spent half as much time listening to our political opponents as we do bashing them, I think we would be in a much better place.

3. Words and tone matter. In this election, many voters simply voted to send a message to President Donald Trump while coded words and racially fueled messaging energized others. While the economy is on the upswing and the unemployment rate hovering at 3.7 percent, the president's job approval rating is at 44 percent. The approval rate seems low given the circumstances. The election results support the conclusion that a large number of people who voted for Trump in 2016 either voted Democrat or just decided to sit this election out. While the Democrats lost seats in the Senate, they are expected to pick up close to 35 House seats, seven governorships, and over 300 seats in state legislatures. Many candidates not only had to articulate a vision, but in some races had to figure out how to rise above the nastiness and noise. In my opinion, Congressman-elect Joe Cunningham's campaign executed this flawlessly. He ran a disciplined campaign that didn't go low even though he was baited on several occasions. He stayed on message and identified offshore drilling as a key issue early on and pounded that message home consistently. He earned the support of local Republican mayors and embraced the idea that all politics is local. He did his best to distance himself from the dysfunction in Washington, including Nancy Pelosi. According to FiveThirtyEight, Cunningham had a one-in-ten chance of winning the 1st Congressional District. Nothing against Arrington, but her team didn't take Cunningham seriously and ran a campaign that was more focused on Trump talking points rather than bread and butter issues important to Lowcountry voters.

4. Tone, tenor, and social media also played roles in the local school board election. Social media certainly didn't help candidates convey a clear vision in the school board election. In the end, many messages were muddled, angry, and nasty. Many voters were left confused about why one candidate was better than the other. For those that are attuned to the public education debate the nuances and distinctions were fairly evident, but for the general public it was one big negative campaign with competing coalitions and far too many candidates.

Most of the education challenges we face are bound in some way to our history where clear lines between races existed. We must first acknowledge and call out the pockets of institutionalized discrimination that still exist not just in our public institutions but in our business community as well. Love, tolerance, and empathy are not Democratic or Republican virtues, they are human virtues. To solve our biggest challenges we need to establish real and authentic buy-in which is quite different than top down decision making by those in power. Regardless of what community we are working in, the conversation should always begin with, "What do you think?"

As it relates to education, my point is simple. Members from the competing coalitions and education groups should coalesce around a few key focus areas and speak with one voice. Discussions about single district elections and creating individual school districts are distractions at this point as they have been rehashed numerous times. Establishing a shared vision for all families regardless of their zip code is the best thing this community can do for any board member or superintendent. The school district and board cannot and should not do this alone. It will require authentic, uncomfortable conversations, compromise, and most likely an influx of new money via taxes or other sources.

If we do not move closer to this approach, the power struggles, competing interests, and transparency issues will continue to erode any future efforts, regardless of who sits on the board or who's serving as superintendent.

Jason Sakran is founder and co-owner of Bon Banh Mi Southeast Asian Kitchen as well as Director for Expanded Learning (Kaleidoscope) for Charleston County School District. He lives in North Central with his wife and two children. His opinions do not reflect nor represent the Charleston County School District in any capacity.


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