Saunders: A teacher's hands-on lesson in politics

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 10, 2012 

When somebody says they’re “doing it for the kids,” that’s a cue to grab your wading boots – because they’re fixing to pile it high and deep.

But when Shane Murphy said Wednesday that he is running for a seat in the state legislature for the kids, it’s not hard to believe him. Murphy said he was “reading about more cuts to education” in May when he decided to seek the House District 38 seat.

“The cuts are already starting to impact my classroom,” said Murphy, a social studies and Youth & Law teacher at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh. His classroom “is only cleaned once a week” because the custodial staff has been cut. “There were Band-Aids and paper and trash on the floor. It was disgusting. That’s not an atmosphere conducive to learning. … I know the legislators on Jones Street have their offices cleaned every day.”

As an unaffiliated voter seeking to run after the primary elections, Murphy said, he could get on the ballot only by presenting to the Board of Elections the signatures of 2,200 voters – 4 percent of the total who vote in that district.

After the first nine hours, he said, he’d collected only 60 signatures. “I knew there was no way I could do it on my own.”

He then logged onto Facebook – hmm, so Facebook is good for something, huh? – and got volunteers from among his students and their parents.

There was, he said, “a core group of about 15 kids who went out almost every night” for a month. “Every day we had to take the signatures to the Board of Elections to have them certified. … I thought we were making great progress.”

Not quite. Turns out nearly half of the first 1,600 signatures were invalid. Many people, he said, had moved and not updated their addresses, or weren’t registered. He was ready to quit.

Not backing down

His students, however, were having none of that and persuaded him to keep going, he said.

“The kids showed amazing patience,” he said. “They had doors slammed in their faces, people wouldn’t come to the door, or they wouldn’t sign.”

Hundreds of all political persuasions did sign, though. Of the 3,600 signatures presented to the BOE, 2,200 turned out to be valid. That was enough to get him on the ballot.

Murphy’s opponent is Democrat Yvonne Holley, a retired procurement specialist for the state – “I know how to get more bang for our buck,” she said. There is no Republican candidate.

Holley told me that Murphy’s enthusiastic cadre of student canvassers has forced her to knock on more doors and work harder.

“Education is a critical issue for both of us,” Holley said, “but he’s a teacher, … more one-dimensional. I’m interested in education, transportation, jobs.”

‘Let’s keep it real’

Murphy denied being one-dimensional, but admitted that education “is the horse I rode in on.” At his first political forum, sponsored by the Knightdale-Wake Forest chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, he told the audience that office-seekers “are telling you what you want to hear. They all say they’re for education, that they’re for investment for infrastructure, but that they want to cut taxes.

“Let’s keep it real, folks,” he said he told them. “You can’t be for investing in education and infrastructure and lower taxes.”

Murphy said, “I’m not a politician,” which was obvious, since one of the first rules of being a successful pol is to give ’em the old razzle dazzle, to tell voters what they want to hear. Pols who tell the truth about raising taxes usually become ex-politicians.

Or teachers.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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