‘Tokenism’? Democrats Slight First African-American Candidate For NH Ed Board

For those of you who may not be aware, the first-ever African-American candidate for the New Hampshire State Board of Education, Ryan Terrell, was rejected by the state Executive Council last week.

The vote was right down party lines, with a senior member of the majority calling the nomination “an exceedingly inappropriate and demeaning appointment…,” while marginalizing Terrell by referring to his nomination as “tokenism.”

I want to put aside the suggestions of racism, bigotry and potential racial bias that could be easily applied to this story, in large part because it detracts from the immediate conversation we need to be having regarding this matter. Terrell is an accomplished individual whose life journey was discarded, cast aside without true consideration. In doing so, those who remained silent are as guilty as those that led the effort to deny a credible candidate an opportunity to serve his fellow Granite Staters.

Terrell’s accomplishments were tarnished by the treatment he received in this nomination process. Terrell is not only another sacrifice at the altar of partisan politics, but in harsher terms, he was unfairly castigated by arrogant elitists who felt all too comfortable presenting a false narrative for dismissing Terrell, instead of just stating the political truth.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, (currently a Democratic candidate for governor), along with Democratic Executive Councilors Debora Pignatelli and Michael Cryans, rejected Terrell. However, Volinsky has been the primary spokesperson against Terrell, and it was his words that are stated at the beginning of this article. But Volinsky didn’t stop there.

In rejecting Terrell, he said Terrell lacked “experience in educational governance.” Apparently Volinsky feels entitled and believes it is his privilege to add that requirement to the qualifications, a requirement that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been applied to other candidates.

“Experience in educational governance” is not a requirement mandated by the state. The actual core requirement states members of the board “shall not be technical educators or professionally engaged in schoolwork.” This is for good reason, so that a fresh pair of eyes can be applied to the process.

Additionally, board members are required to be “public-spirited” and “interested citizens willing to serve the state without pay and to give the time necessary for an understanding of the education needs of the state, and of the best way to supply them (https://tinyurl.com/nheducationhistory).”

After what happened to Terrell, how many people did the Democratic executive councilors scare away from public service, fearful of the political attacks?

Volinsky was flat out wrong when he also stated ”(Terrell) has absolutely no qualifications for the job.” An opinion not shared by a person I admire deeply, Rogers Johnson, president of the Seacoast NAACP.

In discussing Terrill’s qualifications, Johnson stated “He’s a systems analyst, which means he’s pretty adept at looking at organizations and figuring out what’s wrong, what’s right, something that’s probably sorely needed in education, wouldn’t you think?”

Johnson was far more poignant than I when he also stated “in this day and age, when we should have learned from the recent events that just transpired, that perhaps we need to all come together, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, not as liberals, not as conservatives, but as people from the Granite State who want to do better for the people in the state. And what did they do? They made a choice based on politics for a person who is obviously qualified.”

And there is the “political truth” I spoke of earlier. The truth is that for Volinsky, Pignatelli and Cryans the only qualification Terrell was lacking was party affiliation. But for reasons only those three know, they chose to smear the character of a decent person, Ryan Terrell.

Terrell should have been approved because he met the standard set by the state, a standard applied to other candidates approved in the past. More importantly, Terrell’s learning journey and professional accomplishments would have added a breath of fresh air to the board. Sadly, due to Volinsky’s shortsightedness, the board will be deprived access to the unique qualifications Terrell would have delivered.

New Hampshire is seeing an increased enrollment of minority students, especially in the area where Terrell lives and would have represented (Nashua and the surrounding area). Terrell also witnessed first-hand school disruption during Hurricane Katrina. That knowledge would have proven valuable as the board discussed our educational response during this and future pandemics.

What Volinsky missed was the incredible journey traveled through the educational system and the talented business leader Terrell has become. Volinsky undervalued that journey, and as such missed an opportunity to help place someone on the panel that would have brought a much-needed unique voice to the board.

Volinsky let partisanship get in the way of appreciating Terrell’s true character. As New Hampshirites, we should be appalled by how those we elected to represent us treated a fellow Granite Stater. We are better than this.

If Ryan Terrell is willing, I hope Gov. Sununu re-nominates him, and I would hope my fellow fair-minded New Hampshirites rally around him, and heed the words of Mr. Johnson, “we need to all come together” to support a person worthy of the position he is seeking, and thank him for his wiliness to work on the behalf of our students.

Let us hope partisan politics did not discourage yet another person from public service. If so, that shame will not only rest with the three executive councilors who tarnished the good character of Ryan Terrell, but those who remained silent.

To listen to an interview with Terrell, visit https://tinyurl.com/ryanterrellinterview.

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