Last week, a candidate for the Anchorage School Board did what elected officials often struggle to do: He put his community’s interests above his own.
For the past few months, many Anchorage progressives have worried about the impending threat of a three-way race for Bettye Davis’s former seat on the Anchorage School Board. Two African-American leaders, Margo Bellamy and James Smallwood, were headed toward another vote-splitting result against a conservative Republican. It looked likely that we would cede the seat to the conservatives – a bad result compounded by the current state administration’s bad attitude toward public education.
Since taking office, the Dunleavy administration has been increasingly hostile toward public schools. Last week, it announced a $20 million cut to Alaska public education in a move that would promote vouchers, slash teacher salaries, and hurt our children. We need an Anchorage School Board that can fight for public education.
On Tuesday, minutes before the withdrawal deadline for Anchorage municipal elections, James Smallwood stepped forward to do the right thing. He withdrew from this year’s election and filed to run next year against Dave Donley, another Republican who recently took a job with the Dunleavy administration.
James said at the time, “I won’t put my pride before our community.”
James’s decision was met with praise from progressive leaders in Anchorage. Later that day, James’s campaign announced that 100 progressives had endorsed him in his race against Donley and pledged to give $100 or more to his campaign.
James and Margo are both excellent candidates. Margo is a longtime educator and community servant, and is a role model for many in Anchorage. While I and many others personally supported James, I am grateful to him for stepping forward to make a tough decision and prevent another split race. I am now excited to support both candidates -- Margo this year and James next year, as we work to get more diverse, progressive leaders involved in local government.
Ultimately, what happened in this race is about much more than a seat on the school board. Unlike what happened this summer in the governor’s race, progressives in Alaska came together to unite behind a candidate and avoid a doomed three-way race. I’m proud of my friend James Smallwood: an Alaskan who was willing to put his personal interests aside to do the right thing for his community.
We have to remember that as elected officials, we must act in the best interest of the community that we serve -- not our personal ambitions. This is a reminder that many of my colleagues in Juneau could stand to heed as we approach another week without a majority in the State House, and it is one that I intend to keep with me as I serve in the State Senate for District I, on behalf of the people of Anchorage.
This is what can happen when we come together.
Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson is a Democratic member of the Alaska State Senate, representing District I. Gray-Jackson is a former member of the Anchorage Assembly, representing District 4 from 2008 to 2017.
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