Maybe David Picker is indeed a politician for our times.  Cynical.  Self-aggrandizing.  Patronizing.  Petulant. 

Sadly, these are adjectives that too often describe the state of politics today and Mr. Pickler’s uncanny ability to give meaning to them is an even sadder commentary on the sorry state of affairs in “county” politics. 

It’s also the reason that the entry of Ken Hoover into the race for county school board was met with so much positive reaction.  More to the point, his candidacy clearly is bothering Mr. Pickler as he plays his version of the race card more and more.

To listen to Mr. Pickler, he has been the little boy with his finger in the dike, protecting the cowering masses who are huddled together to protect themselves from consolidation and the wave of African-Americans that threaten to sweep over them.  That no one running in Germantown for any elected official would ever be for consolidation is a fact that eludes Mr.  Pickler in a campaign known for its obfuscation. 

Apparently, Mr. Hoover is a formidable candidate and gaining traction in this race (he was the highest rated candidate this year by Coalition for a Better Memphis).  His increase in success directly corresponds to Mr. Pickler’s increase in mud-slinging.  We still think that in the long run, Adlai Stevenson’s admonition is still right more often than not: He who slings mud generally loses ground.

Misleading Quote 

We’ve written before about the willingness of some people to say anything to get elected.  And we mean anything.  We’ve seen it by former Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton and we’ve seen it by Mr. Pickler.   His latest salvo – like many of his policy decisions in the past (can you say Southeast Shelby High School) –  are little more than veiled bigotry. 

He castigates Mr. Hoover for a quote that he shortens for his benefit: “I like the idea of having the opportunity for Memphis students to attend our schools…”    The entire, accurate quotation by Mr. Hoover actually said:  “I like the idea of having the opportunity for Memphis city students to attend our schools, so long as they don’t become the dominant presence in our schools.” 

And omitted of course is that it was the Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aiken who told the school board that he’d like to discuss with Memphis Superintendent Kriner Cash the possibility of city students attending county schools.   To give the pretense of validity, the Pickler mailer includes footnotes to give the impression that he has solid research to back up the bold, oversized letters attributing the misleading quotation to Mr. Hoover. 

The use of the quote by Mr. Pickler is tantamount to racial code words.  Read “Memphis students” as the code words for “all those black kids.”  Just the mere suggestion that Memphis students could attend county schools apparently is enough for Mr. Pickler to beat the drums of stereotyping and bias. 

The First Victim: Facts

We presume that Mr. Pickler assumes that a Germantown district gives him the liberty to play this kind of political game.   Although Germantown is the only town in Shelby County that saw a drop in African-American population this decade, we think that by and large, residents of Germantown don’t condone these kinds of tactics.

But Mr. Pickler wasn’t done.  He then contorts simple logic to link the possibility of Memphis City Schools students attending county schools to consolidation.  His mailer says he “opposes opening county schools to Memphis City Schools students and other policies that would open the door to city-county school consolidation.” 

It’s a breathtaking connection between two unconnected concepts.  In fact, Shelby County Schools already admits Memphis City Schools students – those who are the children of its employees – so it’s hard to understand why Superintendent Aiken’s interest in allowing transfers from city schools was a slippery slope toward school consolidation in Mr. Pickler’s mind.

As he regularly does, Mr. Pickler ignores the facts.  The charter for the new government being created by Memphis and Shelby County Charter Commission does not include schools and leaves the operations and structure of the city and county school districts to the elected officials voted into office to manage them.

Mangling the Facts

In his questionnaire, Mr. Pickler wrote: “While proponents of governmental consolidation point out that the schools issue has been removed from consideration, the facts remain that school district consolidation has a history of following in close order behind governmental consolidation. We will continue to oppose any effort to consolidate our schools.”

Actually, that’s untrue.  (We won’t even get into his speaking in the plural, an attribute that Mark Twain once said is reserved for royalty or people with worms.) There is no history of consolidations that shows that schools consolidation inevitably follow government consolidation.  As we pointed out in a recent post, Louisville consolidated schools decades before it did the same with its government, and Denver and Indianapolis still have multiple school districts.  Then again, Chattanooga and Knoxville consolidated school districts while continuing to have city and county governments.

If there is a lesson in Mr. Pickler’s terms in Shelby County Schools, it is the authority with which he can state erroneous information and convince members like school board member Joe Clayton that it’s the gospel.  It’s also a primary reason that he has no allies on Shelby County Board of Commissioners, the legislative body for the county schools largest local funding source.  Mr. Pickler continues to claim responsibility for blocking single source funding for schools although it was Memphis City Schools’ reluctance to support it that spelled its doom.   

His mailer says that single source funding would have increased county taxes 26% with the additional funds going solely to Memphis City Schools.  That too is a stretch if not an untruth.  The truth is more akin to Memphis City Schools’ reason for backing out of a single source agreement: It would produce a windfall for Shelby County Schools as a result of the Average Daily Attendance law. 

All Students Matter

Finally, his claim that he “defeated every city-county school consolidation attempt” is merely a lie.  Such a conclusion would require a fairly exalted view of himself, but the truth is that the “attempts” have been nothing but preliminary and there were reasons far more compelling than Mr. Pickler’s opposition that doomed them.

We presume that the Pickler brain trust prefers to keep voters focused away from issues like his stance to give the school district taxing authority.  As Mr. Hoover rightly pointed out, ““As a conservative, it’s intuitive to me that the more people who have taxing authority, the higher taxes will be.”

We’ve made no secret over the years that our opinion is that Mr. Pickler is a force for division and divisiveness when all of us need to be pulling together for the academic achievement of every student, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn.   We admire school board members on both city and county boards who are able to see beyond their own parochial interests to support students in the other district.

Enlightened Self-interest

While we find much about Mr. Hoover to commend, here’s a statement by him that caused our Germantown colleague to sign up as a supporter on the spot.   “Memphis City Schools is not the enemy,” he said.  “We have the same objective.  We do have differences…but there are so many areas where our interests are aligned…I feel sometimes that our district has not been as good of a neighbor as it could have been.”

Truer words have never been spoken, and they are exactly the kinds of words that we hear parents of county school students saying all the time.  They have no interest in their leaders doing anything to harm students inside Memphis and they tire of rhetoric that uses the city district as whipping boy, because they understand that every child matters and every child counts.

That philosophy alone would be a breath of fresh air on the county school board, particularly if it replaces an incumbent who sucks all the oxygen out of the room and who already has had 12 years to do whatever he wants to do.