I’m voting for Loren Martell

Harry Welty

Other than me, no has kept a closer eye on the Duluth School Board for the last 10 years to explain its goings-on than Loren Martel. That by itself is not a reason to elect Loren to the school board in November.

When I encouraged him to run two years ago I teased that it took me four attempts to get elected. This year is Loren’s fifth attempt to gain insider access.

I go a long way back with Loren. He was one of dozens of people who joined an organization called Let Duluth Vote. Its website, my website, can still be found on the Internet.

LDV objected to an undemocratic plan to rebuild almost every Duluth school building without voter input. The half-billion dollar decision was both the most massive ever attempted in a Minnesota city and the only such proposal that denied voters their right to a referendum. LDV’s fears were realized. It was too big. Its finances only benefited the banks and the contractors. Ten million dollars have been diverted from the classroom to pay for new buildings every year of this 30-year mortgage. It cost 100 teachers their jobs and the classes they taught. Ten percent of our students fled to other districts in its wake.

Magic new school buildings were to expected give our children an education for the 21st century in classes of 40 students.

After taking the school board to court and being outfoxed by a small fortune in lawyers paid by the taxpayer I gave up the ghost for my sanity.

Loren’s voice emerged to replace mine. He has attended more school board meetings in the last 10 years than any current school board member. He’s a fiscal hawk in an era when most of them find themselves marooned in an increasingly undemocratic Republican Party. But Loren is no Trumpist.

That might not be easy to see going back through 10 year’s worth of Loren’s columns. The proud old Democrat Martell repeatedly bashes Duluth’s sometimes incestuous Democratic party organization.

I briefly fled the Republicans and found respite with Democrats. To my delight I discovered they revere the founder of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln. I never had a more satisfying political experience than when I supported Obama in 2008. At that year’s caucuses I saw dozens of Democrats offering resolutions to give voters the right to vote on the Red Plan.

I have returned as an eccentric guest to the Republican party in recent years in the outlandish hope of purging its deniers and grifters just like they purged moderates, called RINOs, in the last 30 years.

I have no animus toward Democrats. I’ll admit that some of our local DFLers remind me of club members who think wearing public schools on their lapels makes them humanists in the same way that

Trumpy politicians think wearing U.S. flag pins make them patriots.

As a board member Loren will have to deal with schools in the wake of the Red Plan, the quarantine and the Republican assault on public education. Local Democrats will be the least of his worries.

My blog has mentioned Loren 212 times since 2011. I’d recommend my long post called “Martel’s Heartbreak” posted on August 27, 2014. It begins: “I met Loren Martell’s wife briefly once or twice at her back door when I delivered things to Loren a few years back. We didn’t talk to speak of. She seemed a quiet woman who, it appeared to me, did not interfere with Loren’s unexpected crusade against the Red Planners.”

It went on to explain how Loren picked up my baton as his wife, an art teacher, was dying of a merciless illness from which no recovery was possible. Loren was tormented with guilt for pursuing justice for the public as his wife’s life ebbed. His heart, broken though it may be, has always been in the right place.

Loren sensibly believes, that recent legislation allowing the school board to spend more local tax dollars for facilities without a referendum is an echo of the Red Plan. Its hard to argue this point but there is nothing Loren can do about it.

The district is spending $31.5 million to build new administrative offices, a bus barn and remodel facilities. A buyer of old Central is now stuck with the $48 million upgrade of the building, not the taxpayers.

But if elected, Loren will have no opportunity to undo the past. He will only have a chance to help Duluth’s schools face a brave new future whatever that may be.

The Red Plan will be paid off in 10 years and finally some significant portion of the misspent operational dollars will find their way back into the classroom. But that is still well beyond the four years Loren will be elected to.

If there is any justice in Duluth, Loren will get a chance to be a part of our school board. He will have my vote.

Harry Welty occasionally finds himself making good sense at lincolndemocrat.com.