The County's Cross to Bear?

Being politically outraged is not enough

Matt Cross has a good chance of winning his race for School Board in Rockingham County.

The reactions to his campaign say a lot about our politics in 2021. We’re not just polarized. We’re polarized and nobody knows what to do about it. We’re polarized and some folks don’t even know it.

Some don’t know it, because life and events and habits have put us into bubbles. And there’s a bubble in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County of people who are horrified, amazed, scandalized, or all three about Cross’s far-right politics. But the posts on social media about his extreme views aren’t costing him anything.

When Corey Stewart ran against Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate in 2018, his views were far enough removed from local sensibilities that he lost the 26th Delegate district by a few votes. He was the first Republican who didn’t carry the district in more than 30 years.

In Rockingham County election district 3, where Cross is running, Stewart got 64 percent of the vote.

“Gun rights” advocates strike me as ill-informed, bordering on dangerous, in their views. Bathroom bill backers’ views strike me as ill-informed, mean-spirited, and contrary to science and medicine. Evangelical Christians support a literal view of the Bible despite its being written millennia ago in a language nobody speaks any more.

Most of the people in Rockingham District 3 don’t share my views. And even many of those who don’t own multiple guns, worry about bathrooms, or speak in tongues still have some sympathy or understanding of their neighbors’ harsher or more extreme views.

School board is often the stealth election. In the city, Deb and Andy have been deeply and publicly involved in local politics for a long time, but few people could name the evangelical or the Republican on the board. Rockingham, one of the most Republican counties in the state, has long had two former Democratic chairs, Lowell and Dan, on its board. The race is never the top of the ticket and many people arrive at the polls not knowing it’s on the ballot and not knowing anything about the candidates.

More stealthy perhaps is the damage a school board member can do. School staffs have to hire teachers, plan bus routes, review textbooks and lesson plans, moderate district policies, oversee school maintenance and construction, and understand multi-million dollar budgets. Many candidates don’t know about those responsibilities or don’t think they can get elected focusing on those topics. They may focus their campaigns on resource officers or bathrooms or biology classes. And if their views on those topics are outside the mainstream, that doesn’t mean they’ll lose. Again, Corey Stewart got 64 percent of the vote against Tim Kaine in the district Matt Cross wants to represent. If they’re elected, they can waste a lot of time that school staff and administrators should be devoting to core issues. They can also drive away good teachers who already have to be social workers and surrogate parents and don’t want to add sword of Old Testament justice to that resume.

Rockingham and Harrisonburg are separate school districts, but we share a border, a technical school, and this year a pandemic. Rockingham residents would be safe to say we can’t vote for or against Matt Cross, but they’d be wrong to say it’s none of our business.

There are two other candidates for School Board in that district. Financial donations or volunteer work for one of those campaigns might help one of them defeat Matt Cross. Exposing his views on social media won’t. His voters know his views, and a majority share them.

Those who believe in an eye for an eye but still eat shrimp and ham need to read Leviticus again. And those who think public school officials should be worrying about Bibles, bathrooms, and guns probably need to read the New Testament again.

This post is more than 600 words long. And it hasn’t cost Matt Cross a single vote.