CEDAR RAPIDS — Matthew Haile spent his summer vacation a bit differently than his peers at Franklin Middle School. The Cedar Rapids resident, who will begin eighth-grade later this month, kicked off his campaign.
The 13-year-old is hoping to be elected to the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school board during the next regular election, slated for Sept. 8, 2015. Four seats — belonging to John Laverty, Allen Witt, Mary Meisterling and Ann Rosenthal — are scheduled to be up for that election.
“With a write-in campaign, you don’t get very far unless you start early,” Haile said.
Haile’s age renders him ineligible to be on the ballot let alone take office should he garner the most votes.
“The law actually says that a candidate has to be 18, however some boards will appoint a student as a non-voting member of the board to get student input,” said Tracy Bainter, communications director for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “That’s always an option.”
Haile is passionate about the issues — the lack of teacher’s union influence on the board is one of his platform’s cornerstones — and mentioned the possibility of suing for age discrimination in case the law prevented him from taking his seat on the board after winning the elections, Haile said his candidacy is more about advocating for the interests of teachers, the Cedar Rapids Education Association, parents and students.
“We need to make sure this is a winning race,” Haile said. “If we don’t win, we make sure we made noise. I know people don’t like campaigns making noise but the way things are being run by the school board, I think this campaign needs to make noise for those four groups of people.”
Haile launched his campaign in June but the idea to run for elected office has been in his mind for years. An administrative decision to change the schedules for district middle schools — a move made without a formal board vote — spurred Haile to actually explore joining the race.
“I think students are being disenfranchised in a lot of ways. We haven’t been able to have a voice,” he said. “The board is disenfranchising these people and they need to have a voice.”
Haile’s mother, Michelle Herzog, said that her youngest son has always been the family’s pundit. “He’s really passionate about politics,” she said. “I, on the other hand, used to have no interest in it. He’s taught me a lot and everyone else I know. Me, my husband, his dad — everyone. He talks about it all the time.”
Still, none of that prepared her for the “shock” of finding out that her son had called the Linn County Auditor’s Office to ask about becoming a write-in candidate.
“He’s always been really into politics, always wanting to run for things he’s not old enough to run for. He’s been talking about this for a few years,” Herzog said. “He’s still a kid. He’s still my baby. ... It’s kind of just happening fast. I didn’t really think it was a big deal. A write-in candidate. I don’t even know how that works.”
Herzog said that students deserve input on issues even if they shouldn’t be the decision-makers.
Haile’s no lightweight. Without prompting, he name dropped Barry Goldwater and articulated his feelings about the Common Core State Standards — he supports them but considers them to to be “too uptight” -- and is a self-identified liberal Democrat. He also feels strongly that he should be held to the same standard as any other school board candidate.
“I think if you’re going to vote for me, you’re going to take me seriously and treat me the same as anybody else,” he said.
Haile lost his first race, for class president in sixth-grade, but said that experience provided lessons for his school board run.
“One thing I’ve learned is that you have to take it stitch by stitch. You have to plan but don’t plan too far ahead,” he said. “It’s good to have a platform but what I’m talking about is, ‘What’s your first initiative? What’s the first thing you’re going to do?’ I should’ve been talking to other students about why I’m the best choice.”
Yet still, Haile has his eye on the future and the effect a successful run will have on the Cedar Rapids schools. His mother, however, is just trying to come to grips with being his campaign manager, scheduler and “top dog.”
“I never dreamed this would actually happen,” she said. “I thought, if he really wants me to write his name in, I’ll write his name in and he’ll be happy. I can’t really wrap my head around it.”