It takes a lot to get elected to Congress – money, connections, a broad electorate open to your message.

But in many local elections, with open seats aplenty, all it takes is to show up. The proximity between residents and local government means that well-meaning residents who want to make a difference can do so easily, often only for the trouble it takes to gather a few signatures.

The same, however, is also true for not-so-well-meaning residents, which is how a man unfit to drive a school bus – or for any position of authority, really – now gets a vote on how students are taught in Regional School Unit 16.

Mike Downing, 68, was elected March 2 to represent Minot on the RSU 16 board. He ran as a write-in candidate alongside two others on the ballot vying for three open seats, finishing third with 31 votes.

Less than six weeks earlier, Downing had been fired by the school district after he was repeatedly warned for making sexist and racist comments over the course of many years.

Most recently, he twice referred to Martin Luther King Jr. Day as “National (N-word) Day.” Last year, he referred to a student on his bus as “the Negro girl.” He also admitted using a sexist slur in reference to both the superintendent and school board chairwoman.


And he is unrepentent about all of it. He didn’t know it was wrong to use the N-word, he told Lewiston Sun Journal reporter Lindsay Tice, who broke the story. The disgusting, disparaging words about the superintendent and school board chairwoman, said in private conversation? “I thought I was safe talking to those two guys.” The “Negro” girl? “Nobody is ever going to convince me that was wrong.”

Now Downing, who admitted he ran in part to lord over the superintendent who rightfully fired him, gets to apply his dim, backwards thinking to school policy.

Because he stepped up, and no one else did, a man whose point of view belongs in the Stone Age now has a say in how children are prepared for the future.

And it’s not just in RSU 16. Robert Celeste stepped down from the Oxford Hills School Board earlier this month after a series of his anti-Muslim and racist social media posts came to light.

Celeste, who won his seat in 2016 as the only person on the ballot, says public schools are to blame for society’s problems, in part because they teach subjects at odds with the Bible. Dinosaurs, he says, lived alongside man, and were flying around the Old West when cowboys first settled there.

He said the way female students dress is “too provocative,” asking, “Why do girls want to make me want to commit adultery?”


Do you want that guy deciding on science curricula, or sex ed? Or on anything of consequence at all?

Fortunately, most local elected officials are in it for the right reasons. They endure long meetings and navigate complex, sometimes divisive issues. They look for solutions in the best interest of their communities.

But as communities find it harder and harder to fill these positions, it becomes easier for the dense and boorish to sweep in and claim them. It is up to the sharp and service-minded, then, to act.

That’s what happened in the House District 57 race, where Republican Leslie Gibson was running unopposed until he called one of the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting a “skinhead lesbian,” the latest of many inflammatory and irresponsible posts. First, and in quick fashion, Democrat Eryn Gilchrist got on the ballot, as did Republican Thomas Martin Jr., a former legislator who came to rescue his party from the encroaching wing represented by online trolls.

“After these unfortunate comments, I couldn’t sit back,” Martin said.

That’s good advice for anyone who wants to serve their community. After all, one way or another, local government is going to be run by those who step up to run it.

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