Whew! What a close race that was! Of course I am referring to the at-large nail-biter race that was contested between three candidates vying to become a director on the Multnomah Education Service Board. Then again I, and my other opponent in the three-some race, attorney Rick Okamura, did not enjoy the block AFSCME union vote as did our common opponent, Zak Johnson, a self-proclaimed political and union activist. AFSCME refers to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. More on AFSCME later.
No doubt, I know my election musings will appear as sour grapes: Veni, vidi, omitto; candidate loses. And, yes, many were called; only one was chosen. Yet my mind keeps wandering toward dictionaries: For example, the definition of 'absurdity.' According to Webster, absurdity is 'The quality of being inconsistent with obvious truth or sound judgment.'
So what does the MESD election have to do with AFSCME and 'absurdity?' Well, in the beginning, unions were organized nationwide to protect some fairly horrific working conditions; especially for children. No, I am not referring to Nike in Southeast Asia, but to the efforts of pre-cursors to AFSCME in working diligently to ensure working wages for families. In Oregon, as well in the late 1800s, labor unions fought to protect the safety and wages for loggers and mill workers.
Fast forward to 2007. The MESD AFSCME employees are apparently passionately upset with the MESD seven-member board of directors. It is a personnel issue: Wages and benefits. In fact the rumor for months has been, 'Elect an AFSCME activist to the board and, with luck, we can skip past our contract that expires on July 1st and maybe strike in the fall when school starts!'
A perusal of the AFSCME Web site declares that America is '… at a crossroads' and there is '… a battle for the country's soul.' AFSCME describes the enemies among us as '… privitizers, deregulators, tax-cutters, people who want to turn back the clock on racial justice and women's equality and selfish corporation CEO's.' Although three women directors, and one African American director, currently serve on the board, apparently the MESD Board is among the entities that would '… undermine and malign every aspect of public service'.
It is no absurdity that all Rick and I wanted to do was to help and protect the rights of the K-12 kids who energize the eight school districts that comprise Multnomah County's MESD. We would have advocated for the best conditions that would allow teachers to teach in a safe environment. We both have unique skills to do that. We also consistently volunteer in many public endeavors.
In helping themselves now by placing a union advocate on the board (I actually referred to Zak as a 'Union Mouthpiece' in my Willamette Week interview), I suppose I can accept that maybe AFSCME was not so much voting against Rick and me as ' for Zak and against the MESD Board.' Still, Oliver Goldsmith wrote that 'Every absurdity has a champion to defend it.'
Even though the MESD election has lubricated a very slippery slope by placing a union activist on the board, AFSCME can ignore that conflict of public interest and focus toward a new goal: Spend the next two years soliciting three MESD candidates to oppose the incumbents in the 2009 election! That way, by using their group 'clout' they will discourage opponents from filing, and can ensure a union majority on the MESD Board! As Albert Camas observed, 'The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.'
John H. Kilian, Portland, is a dentist. In the Review's readership area, MESD serves the Riverdale School District.