By Scott Christiansen
Eric Croft had a strong lead in the race for School board Seat-B at about 9:30 pm April 2 and was the first apparent winner in the 2013 Anchorage municipal election. (The interview below was taken with 58 of 122 precincts tallied and Croft was holding at about 60 percent of the vote.)
So I called it, and called Croft.
Croft is an experienced politician and first thing he said was the numbers “looked good” and that he was “honored” by the response from voters. (Election night is always flattering for winners.)
So how did he win?
Croft presented what he has been calling “a dual message” about the Anchorage School District budget process. “I’ve said all along that I have a dual goal of continued budget discipline, finding ways to find savings, and articulating to the Assembly and the Legislature that you can’t flat-fund us forever,” Croft said.
He also had a message for two sets of voters, trying to appeal to budget hawks and education spenders alike.
“I think when you say, ‘Conservatives, you’re right, that we can do a better job of finding savings in the budget,’ and ‘Progressives, you’re right, that education is very important and the Legislature needs to give us more resources,’ I think that’s something both sides can agree on,” Croft said.
American school boards pretty much do two things: adopt policies and adopt a budget. This year’s campaign for the Anchorage School District focused mostly on numbers. It was a rare day when anyone cornered a candidate about the next round of talks regarding elementary reading curriculum.
With most of the forum conversations focused on budget matters, Croft was all about holding the Legislature accountable for more funding and “looking for savings” while showing the Legislature budget discipline.
His strongest opponent was David Nees, a former math teacher who came to the forums saying he could save the District money, lots of it, by making strategic cuts. Nees would also came to the forums armed with numbers. One of his claims was that moving charter schools that are currently in leased buildings into District-owned buildings could save anywhere from $14 million to $16 million. In one forum Nees claimed $20 million in savings could be found by using Anchorage School District buildings more efficiently.
Croft became adept at countering those claims. He told voters that by studying the same reports about school district space and costs that Nees cited, District officials found only $6 million in savings. Both candidates said they want all Anchorage programs in District-owned buildings, they just disagreed on how much money could be saved.
With all signs pointing toward a win Tuesday night, Croft said he enjoyed debating Nees and the race’s third candidate, Stephanie Cornell-George.
“I admired them for running, but I do think that David had a problem in that he had numbers that just didn’t add up and people expect you to have a serious proposal that withstands scrutiny,” Croft said. “So, I hope that the proposals I put forward will add-up, and if they don’t, I expect people to question me on it and show me where I am wrong.”
Since early 2012, the Anchorage School Board has had an image problem because one of its members, Pat Higgins, took a job in the Marshall Islands and attends Board meetings over the telephone. Higgins was first elected in 2008, and won reelection in 2011. He has been phoning-in to his elected office for about a year.
When asked if the Board should tighten attendance rules its own members, Croft said board member attendance is a problem that should be solved.
“I do think that’s really problematic. But, my understanding is that Pat’s coming back and that he will be attending and living in the District. I think that’s vital, but I think that’s going to get fixed.” Croft said. “I’ve said over and over that I think that was a problem. I think we will get that solved and get that member back in the District.”
At 10:42 pm, Croft was still holding a 59-percent lead with 106 out of 122 precincts reporting to election central. This reporter’s eyes were getting glazed over, but it looked like Croft with 16,747 votes to Nees with 7,385. Cornwell-George, trailed with 3,629 votes.
Croft is longtime democrat, and it’s quite possible he was pushed ahead by union voters incited by Mayor Dan Sullivan’s Ordinance 37. Nee is a Republican who courted, and received, support from local conservative talk radio hosts. Nees’ voter history shows he has been registered for a string of party affiliations: Republican ((1980); then a Democrat (1986); a Green Party member (1991); a libertarian (2009); and, in 2012, he registered as a Republican again.
In the other school board race, for Seat B, former state Senator Bettye Davis, a Democrat, had about 54 percent of the vote, leading incumbent Don Smith, a Republican. It was Davis with 17,863 to Smith with 14,769.