Josh Aikens was one of the speakers at a Tea Party meeting last week in very “red” Sussex County.
Aikens was fresh off a tough loss in a bruising LD-24 Republican primary for the state Assembly, but that race already seemed to be forgotten.
Aikens talked about the upcoming school board races. It’s not a new subject for him.
Aikens is credited in New Jersey’s right wing circles for helping hundreds of conservatives win election last year to school boards across the state.
This is a big deal, and staunch conservatives on school boards are having an impact in many ways – curriculum, books, personnel and the like.
But now he’s looking ahead – telling people at the meeting to consider running for their local boards themselves. The filing deadline to run in the fall election for school board is July 31.
Running is not hard. A candidate needs only 10 signatures to get on the ballot.
School boards are officially “non-partisan” and that’s how board members more or less acted – until very recently.
But with the “culture wars” raging, the non-partisanship of school boards is vanishing quickly.
Some Republican organizations began recruiting school board candidates two years ago.
And with acrimonious meetings and at times litigation over books, gay issues and sexuality in general the norm these days, school boards have become a political battleground.
Those on the left may have been a bit slow to grasp the new environment, but they’re trying to catch up.
A group called the New Jersey Public Education Coalition has been created to fight what it terms “the radical right school board takeover.”
It also is seeking school board candidates judging from postings that speak of the looming filing deadline and training for candidates.
All this makes the end of July – of all times – a critical date on New Jersey’s political calendar.
Evidence of the philosophical chasm between both sides is not hard to find – just go to a school board meeting.
There weren’t all that many people at this week’s meeting in Roxbury, a locale where the high school librarian has filed a defamation suit against four residents.
But two speakers aptly symbolized the divide.
One decried mass praying organized by some audience members at a previous meeting, adding that the public schools are not the place for spreading the Christian faith. She said she was raised Catholic by the way.
No, no, no, said a speaker in response.
The issue at hand is not about faith, it’s about pornographic literature in the school library.
The battlelines certainly have been drawn.