As the date for the local mayoral and Metro Council elections approaches here in Nashville, I've been trying, with some difficulty, to differentiate between my two favorite mayoral candidates--David Briley and Karl Dean. Regardless of how much, and how often, I read about their positions, regardless of how many of my "in the know" friends I ask, I still can't come to a strong position on which one I should support.
I have, however, found an issue that I am beginning to think might act as a personal wedge or divining rod. Oddly enough, this is not properly a political issue, not in the traditional sense. In brief, Karl Dean sends his children to private schools, and tha may well become the litmus test upon which I vote for David Briley in this particular election.
While the educational placement of a candidate's children has not been a deciding issue for me in national elections (e.g., I wouldn't have been concerned about Clinton or Bush's children) or in some other local elections, this is generally because I see more meaningful distinctions between the candidates. All else being equal, I'm leaning toward making this the deciding issue. The question that keeps bothering me, however, is whether or not this is significant. Is this indeed a legitimate basis for making a decision?
My Bonnie and I have taken different positions on this question. To oversimplify, she holds the position that Dean can be every bit as effective on the question of public education regardless of where his children attend school. To a certain point, I can share this position, but, ultimately, I would hold that a person with personal ties to public education--with children in, or destined to be in, public schools--will make decisions far more tied to the concerns of public schools and its relation to the public at large than someone who does not have such ties. I hold this position on three grounds:
First, in line with my comments earlier on public education, I would hold that keeping oneâ's children in the public education system is to be, in part, civic minded.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the materiality of having one's children affected by school policies, by school reputation, by the daily life of the public education system, alters the urgency with which one approaches problems. As a parent, I know that those issues which affect my child become the most important issues that I deal with, if I'm in a position to do so. If not, they become the issues about which I worry the most. While I certainly have other priorities and concerns, when my child is involved, I understand the issue differently.
Third, and as an ancillary to number two, a mayor with his child in a public education system will simply be more knowledgeable about the ongoings of that system and hence will be able to be proactive in thinking about that system.
Ultimately, while I do not want to make a personal family decision the sole grounds on which I decide my vote about a public issue, that same personal family decision is, in my mind, a vote that the candidate has already made regarding his/her commitment to the local community.