School board hopeful cries foul

Butler says Dyer used her words unfairly in campaign literature

November 09, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

The winners in the race for county school board will not be official for days, but one candidate already says that dirty campaigning could cost her a seat.

Diane Butler, who finished fourth in the contest for three seats, said campaign literature distributed by third-place finisher Allen Dyer was taken out of context and distributed without her permission.

"This is dirty politics," said Butler, who finished about 1,000 votes behind Dyer. "I was very nice with Allen, and this is how he repaid me."

The literature contained Butler's answer to a question about "Intelligent Design" that was included on a candidates survey. Butler said she completed the questionnaire early in the year for the group Democracy for Howard County.

"I was very new at what I was doing," Butler said. "I sent them quick answers. ... It is my own fault for not being savvy enough."

Butler said she cannot remember exactly what she wrote on the questionnaire. She has attempted to retrieve a copy of the answer she sent the group, but she said her computer has since been "fried."

The question from Democracy for Howard County was: "Do you support or oppose the teaching of creationism or what is called 'Intelligent Design' as part of the curriculum in county schools."

According to the group, Butler responded: "I believe 'Intelligent Design' should be taught as a different theory than 'Evolution.' In science we have many subjects that are taught theoretically, and I believe all sides should be offered to allow students to make up their own minds."

Butler objected because she thought the answer in Dyer's literature did not accurately reflect her views.

"I'm not a creationism-teaching, right-wing, voucher-slinging, home-schooling mom," she said.

When asked Thursday to describe her views, Butler said: "I think it is a religious doctrine. I think it is taught in Christian religion. It is not a curriculum that you need to teach in the classroom. But you can't teach history without teaching religion; it is a doctrine out there that people discuss."

County election officials said about 13,000 absentee ballots had yet to be counted and that results would not be official until Friday. Dyer said his campaign distributed about 2,000 pamphlets in the days before the election. Butler, who also finished fourth behind Dyer in the February primary, said his "negative campaign tactics" had a direct impact on Tuesday's vote.

"I had people calling my friends," she said. "I lost a lot of votes over it. I [might have] lost the election over it. I had more votes in the primary.

"I am not being sour grapes," said Butler, a community activist from Ellicott City. "I am upset that I have been maliciously maligned. He had no business using it."

Dyer disagreed.

"It is something that is very much fair game," the Ellicott City attorney said. "It was not edited. It was not taken out of context."

Dyer said he worked harder than Butler in the general election.

"I didn't see any [of her] campaign signs," Dyer said. "I didn't see anyone at the polls handing out Diane's literature. I worked. I worked hard. I worked pretty smart."

Dyer said he was approached by Democracy for Howard County a couple of months ago about passing out literature containing information about other board candidates' stances on issues. The group, which is affiliated with Democracy for America, the grass-roots organization that formed from Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2004, endorsed Dyer and agreed to help with his campaign.

"I jumped at the chance," he said.

It is common for the group to offer support to candidates it endorses, said Dawn Popp, the organization's chairwoman. "We have no finances we can offer. What we can offer is boots-on-the-ground volunteers.

"It's crazy to think that this was a smear tactic," Popp said.

Dyer is no stranger to controversy. In 2000, he sued the school board in Circuit Court for what he said were violations of the state's Open Meetings Act. As a result, state legislation was passed to strengthen enforcement of the law.

Dyer also represented four residents who questioned potential water contamination and other environmental concerns associated with a 400-seat addition at Glenelg High School. An administrative judge ruled against Dyer's clients in that case.

Butler, vice president of the St. John's Lane Community Association after serving four years as president, has said that she wants to increase academic rigor in the classroom. Butler has said that she home-schools her daughter out of concern over the quality of county schools.

"She was more conservative than our group, certainly," Popp said when asking why her group did not endorse Butler.

Dyer acknowledged the guidance of several people who helped with his campaign, including Ken Stevens, a member of the Democracy for Howard County steering committee. Popp said she now considers Dyer a full member of the organization.

Butler said that if she is not elected to the board this time, she is unsure whether she will seek a position in the future. In the meantime, she has returned to her post with the St. John's Lane Community Association.

"I don't want it damaging my reputation," she said.

unofficial school board results

1. Janet Siddiqui: 56,521 (21.7 percent)

2. Ellen Flynn Giles: 52,412 (20.2)

3. Allen Dyer: 49,766 (19.2)

4. Diane Butler: 48,743 (18.7)

5. Betsy Grater: 31,707 (12.2)

6. Di Zou: 19,720 (7.6)

Total votes: 259,763

Write-in votes: 894 (less than 1 percent)

Source: Howard County Board of Elections

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