Tevlin: Blog warfare in Edina school board race takes no prisoners

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2011 - 8:29 PM

One is either a racist, sexist, closet Tea Party supporter trying to infiltrate and radicalize the Edina School Board, or just a concerned dad hoping to give back to a system that has provided a good education to his disabled daughter.

The other is either a "cranky, crouching-in-your-basement" political activist who enjoys spreading skewed dirt on candidates, or just an old-style moderate Republican who thinks voters should know the truth.

Their blog war over the past couple of weeks on various websites has ended with one of them, Jason Berger, dropping out of the school board race and vowing to help other potential candidates for office fight off what he says amounts to "cut-and-paste" character assassination.

So now we have a potential school board member learning the hard way what educators have been trying to tell kids: Be careful of what you put on the Internet.

Berger is a risk analyst by trade. I'll let you decide whether he employed his skills in his own fledgling political campaign.

In August, Berger filed to run for the Edina school board. Then he started blogging for one of the hyper-local websites (edina.patch.com) about his position on school issues, such straight-forward stuff as fiscal responsibility and teaching the fundamentals.

That's when Dick Novack, a long-time political activist for Republicans such as Arne Carlson, got a tip that Berger might be hiding "a moral agenda" from moderate voters. Novack, who has done opposition research for candidates and on his own against both far-right and far-left candidates, sifted through Internet blogs to find what he considered "radical" ideas promoted by Berger. He wrote about them on the same patch website.

The entries Novack found include this: "... the Democratic Party has become the party of single women, soft males, and homosexuals." Those softies "empathize with feminism" and are an "equal partner" in their marriages, he wrote.

And this: "Homosexual marriage is a fruitless endeavor, devoid of natural life. Feminism is the whispering of Satan in the ears of women to say, 'You're getting a raw deal, eat of the apple and become like men!'"

Satire is always dangerous because so many people don't get it, but combine it with a Hitler reference and you're doomed, as Berger did on a humorous website (stuffwhite peoplelike.com): "I mean really, hasn't enough time passed where we may begin to look at the entire record of Chancellor Hitler; both the highs *and* the lows? It's a matter of putting things into the proper context."

Novack was disturbed by what he found. "All this stuff just fell out of the woodwork," he said in an interview. "The Edina public deserved to know about these highly sexist, homophobic ideas. He's totally entitled to his point of view, but if he believes these things he should say so and defend it."

Berger sounds pretty rational. I give him the benefit of the doubt on the Hitler thing because he did put a smiley face on it. And, he said liberal groups also recruit for supposedly nonpolitical positions. He said much of what he wrote, some years ago, "I wouldn't be afraid to stand on a soap box and say." But he said Novack took the excerpts out of the context of broader discussions on issues.

The "soft males" comment, he explained, was a discussion of how the Democratic Party had become the "mommy party" and the Republicans had become the "daddy party."

Novack also alleged that Berger had encouraged believers to infiltrate dying social clubs such as Knights of Columbus to spread their ultra-conservative message: "A movement in its nascent stage requires brotherhood, secrecy, exclusion, structure, discipline, etc.," he allegedly wrote.

Berger said he doesn't recall writing that.

I asked Berger if he was prompted to run by the Tea Party or another ultra-conservative group without divulging it.

"No," he said. "I've gone to one of their rallies, but I don't think they do much."

Berger ran to give the board some business knowledge, he said, and because the school system has helped his daughter, who is disabled. He also said his adoption of an Hispanic child didn't square with the notion that he is racist. He did say, however, that he was "vetted" by an ad hoc group of local Republicans about his views.

"People who know me know [the alleged writing] is not me," said Berger. He may battle his now growing Internet footprint by explaining his side, in full, on a new web page.

Meanwhile, will he seek office again?

"No, probably not," Berger said. "It's not worth it."

Novack said he's been thanked for exposing blatant partisan politics and keeping them from the board race.

"The Edina school board has always been nonpolitical," Novack said. "Let's not tip the boat. Everything is working fine."

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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