In Harrisburg’s suburbs, national issues cast a shadow over a local school board race

By: - May 16, 2023 10:27 am

CAMP HILL, Pa. — For poll workers in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, the pace early on Tuesday morning might have been slow, but the stakes of a local school board race were anything but low-key.

Voters in this borough, population 8,170, just west of Harrisburg, are being asked to choose among seven candidates who are running for five, open seats, with terms set to start in December, according to PennLive. 

Incumbent board members Neil Connelly, a Democrat, Republicans Randall Gale, and Geoffrey McInroy; and newcomers Meredith Bowen, Melissa Howard, both Democrats, and Republicans Stephanie Johnson and Jesse West, all of whom had cross-filed, were on Tuesday’s ballot, according to a summary compiled by Cumberland County Democrats.

Like other school board races across Pennsylvania and nationwide, debates over what books students should be allowed to read, and what they should be taught in class, also are central to the campaign in Camp Hill.

Volunteers greet voters outside the polling station at Camp Hill Borough Hall in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, on Election Day morning, Tuesday, May 16, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

“What’s at stake is our great school district,” Camp Hill Democrats vice-chairperson Juliet Moringiello, told the Capital-Star as she greeted voters outside borough hall. “It’s important for our students to have an open mind and to become lifelong learners.”

Last weekend, a multipage letter urging voters to support candidates Johnson and West asserted that the borough’s school district “used to be about learning. Now they are infested with political and ideological indoctrination.”

Camp Hill Republican Committee Chairperson Paul Lewis told the Capital-Star that while he believed the letter raised valid arguments, it was not endorsed by the borough’s GOP. 

“Some of these issues that have been nationalized – do they deserve to be looked at? Yes,” said Lewis, who was lending a hand at a polling station at Camp Hill Presbyterian Church, just down the block from borough hall. “The task is how do you present it?”

But though they might disagree on the issues, both Lewis and Moringiello stressed the importance of Tuesday’s local canvasses. 

Local government, Moringiello noted, is the “level of government closest to the people.”

In Camp Hill, where an influx of new residents has swung the party pendulum from Republican red to Democratic blue, competition between the parties for every vote has been fierce – even in these intra-party contests.

Over the weekend, Democratic and Republican volunteers were marshaling loyalists ahead of these traditionally low-turnout elections. 

“We worked so hard to get out the vote,” Moringiello said.

Lewis offered a similar sentiment, observing that the odd-year election is, in some ways, a dry run for next year’s presidential election.

“You have to keep your eye on the big picture,” he said.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.