Buying a way in?

Big spender: The strategy may be sound, but $30,000 for a school board race raises other questions.

February 23, 2000

JERRY D. JOHNSTON may get his money's worth even if he doesn't win a seat on the Howard County School Board.

He's ready to spend $30,000 on his campaign, hoping to buy enough name recognition to separate himself from others in the 17-person field.

Already the gambit is paying dividends: a news story about his plan and, now, an editorial.

It might not matter that an editorial writer thinks his approach is out of sync with the values of Howard County, where issues -- not money -- are pre-eminent and where one builds victory with ideas and hard work. If people aren't paying attention -- or aren't offended -- he could succeed. It's not illegal.

But willingness to spend your way onto the school board may actually be a shaky platform. Some may think it doesn't suggest the sort of fiscal prudence and sound judgment the board needs.

Or maybe it's not so silly: His pursuit of a $9,900-a-year job will give him a profile for his accounting business even if he fails as a school board candidate.

Howard voters must give him the benefit of the doubt: He has proven his interest and concern by running twice before. He says he wants better communication among the board members, parents and staff members. His ideas include putting a teacher representative on the board; eliminating restrictions on what people can speak about during the open forum portion of board meetings; and holding board meetings designed for staff members to share concerns and ideas.

Half the other candidates say they won't spend more than $1,000. To find candidates who spend anywhere near as much as Mr. Johnston, you have to look at a race for General Assembly. Whatever Mr. Johnston's intent or qualifications, that can't be a good thing.

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