Screen shot from a TV ad by Truth in Politics — linking incumbent Springfield school board candidate Charles Taylor with the controversial term of "critical race theories." Springfield schools have insisted they do not teach Critical Race Theory, although the district provides staff training on systemic inequality and racism.

OPINION |

Extraordinary and expensive negative advertising that is attempting to smear the reputation of incumbent Springfield R-12 school board candidate Charles Taylor may backfire.

Look what happened in the 2021 City Council election when incumbent Craig Hosmer was targeted by special interests with deep pockets: Hosmer trounced his two heavily-financed challengers despite having been dramatically outspent in the campaign.

This year a secretive group billing themselves as Truth in Politics bought $30,000 worth of TV time to air the anti-Taylor ad claiming, without basis, that he has repeatedly “hijacked” R-12 board meetings to promote a so-called Critical Race Theory curriculum. The ads urge voters to instead cast ballots in the April 5 election for newcomers Steve Makoski and Kelly Byrne to fill the two board seats that are up for grabs.

The total amount above $30,000 being spent to try to defeat Taylor won’t be reported for a while. However, Taylor, a Drury University communication professor first elected to the school board in 2016, says he plans to spend roughly $5,000 in his re-election campaign, which relies primarily on small contributions from supporters.

In the 2021 city council contest, business groups — including the Homebuilders Association of Greater Springfield and a political action arm of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce — kicked in a combined $38,000 toward an $89,000 total war chest boosting the candidacy of real estate developer Brent Brown.

Hosmer, an attorney, reported spending less than $13,000 on his re-election campaign, with the largest contribution listed as $2,700 from the Springfield firefighters’ union.

The result: Hosmer was favored by 58 percent of the voters, while Brown received only 25 percent and a third candidate in the race, security consultant J. Michael Hasty, got 16 percent.

Theories regarding that 2021 outcome vary. One, of course, holds that voters simply were satisfied with Hosmer’s performance on the council and wanted to see more of it. However, another explanation could be that the influx of campaign contributions, particularly the big bucks from special interests, alarmed voters and shocked some out of apathy.

Springfieldians aren’t used to such large sums of money being expended to win positions that offer no pay and only the satisfaction of serving the community. It tends to raise suspicions about ulterior motives.

Alarm may turn to anger over the negative advertisement in the current school board contest. R-12 patrons who are comfortable with Taylor continuing on the board might have assumed that, as the incumbent, he would likely prevail at the polls without their going to the trouble of actually casting votes. But anger, psychologists say, is a powerful motivator. And outrage over the negative ad may propel more pro-Taylor voters to the polls.

A Taylor victory this year, coupled with that of Hosmer last year, may convince special interest groups that they are wasting their money trying to buy influence by backing beholden candidates or blatant stooges. 

The corruptive clout of money in national and statewide politics is disgustingly evident; it shouldn’t become the determining factor in local elections, too.

Editor’s note: Mike O’Brien has made a $100 contribution to the Charles Taylor for SPS campaign. 

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TV ad targets Springfield school board incumbent; candidates endorsed in ad say they can’t stop commercial

A group reportedly founded by local business people who claim to have no special interests are funding about $30,000 worth of TV ads that attack Springfield Public Schools board candidate Charles Taylor and promote candidates Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski. The nonprofit group calling itself Truth in Politics does not disclose information on its website…

Mike O’Brien is a former longtime newspaper reporter, editor and columnist and is also a college journalism educator in Springfield. Email: obriencolumn@sbcglobal.net