April 24, 2013 in City

Vestal: Anti-school message hits the road with Alton money

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Shawn Vestal
(Full-size photo)

If you thought that Duane Alton’s anti-schools campaign had slowed down since it took a drubbing at the ballot box last fall, think again.

It just shifted the battle ground to Battle Ground – a school district near Vancouver, all the way across the state. As you may know, there is no public school anywhere on Earth that Alton and his band of merry patriots will not try to make poorer, whether they live there or not. Alton’s group sent out its familiar yellow scare fliers to Battle Ground voters earlier this month in an effort to defeat a levy on Tuesday’s ballot. They also targeted a bond issue in Reardan-Edwall.

The Reardan-Edwall measure was losing Tuesday night, falling far short of the 60 percent needed. The Battle Ground levy, which requires a simple majority to pass, was winning.

But it’s not about winning and losing, of course. Poorer schools are simply a matter of principle for the Alton boys, whose motto might be: No Child Not Left Behind. Or: Neighbors Hurting Neighbors.

Alton’s group, Citizens for Responsible Taxation, presents itself as a coalition of concerned parents and citizens – just a large “diverse” group of regular folks – who believe in lower taxes and who feel schools are wasting their money. But, like a whole lot of supposedly populist anti-tax activity, its diversity is overstated – a shield for a monoculture dominated by one wealthy man.

In the past three years, Alton has provided $102,664 of the group’s $116,403 in contributions. Next highest is his son, Matt Alton, who gave $12,500. Alton money, in other words, accounts for literally 99 percent of this diverse group’s funding.

The battle in Battle Ground followed Alton’s well-established template. He mailed out bright yellow fliers covered with big, black, scary distortions. The basic idea is to make voters think they’re getting an enormous new tax wallop when they’re actually deciding whether to renew a tax.

Some folks argue that calling a replacement tax a “new” tax is accurate. If it is, it’s a kind of technical, semantic accuracy that’s being tweaked in service of an ulterior motive. Certainly, someone who cries wolf in the manner of these responsible citizens – “Proposed new tax. Total cost to taxpayers for Battle Ground School District levy: $103,000,000” – is up to something other than strict accuracy.

Otherwise, they might put out a flier like this: “SCHOOL DISTRICTS ASK YOU TO CONSIDER PAYING THE SAME TAXES YOU’RE PAYING NOW!!!!!”

Strangely, they don’t.

When the Columbian in Vancouver asked Alton what he was up to mixing in with politics all the way across the state, Alton said, “School districts are notorious for not wanting people to know what it’s really going to cost them. We try to expose that and let people know what it’s going to cost them. And they say yea or nay.”

Interesting take on notoriety. Recently, a lot of voters have been saying nay to Alton and yea to schools. Last year, the group went wide in the Spokane region, targeting 12 local levy elections. Eleven of the 12 levies passed, including the one in levy-averse Central Valley. But they’ve recorded some wins, too, including helping to defeat a bond issue in East Valley this year.

No district is too small to escape the CFRT’s eviscerating glare. Last year, the citizens sent out fliers opposing a levy in the Great Northern School District, a K-6 district with between 35 and 45 students a year. Teachers in the district split duties between grades, and classes are taught in a 101-year-old building.

When the district asked voters to renew its levy last year, Alton’s band smelled a rat: “327,000 in EXCESS NEW TAXES! on the backs of YOU the TAXPAYERS! Did you know that your tax $$$$$s already fund 100% of our children’s education without requiring excess tax levies??? Why pay more???”

Why indeed? Great Northern’s voters seemed to have an answer – 68 percent backed the levy – and so did those in Battle Ground. It’s likely too much to hope that those obnoxious yellow fliers will disappear completely, but Alton’s retreads are wearing thin.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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