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Estabrook has choices to make

School board member has a lot on his plate

By The Mercury

Manhattan resident Aaron Estabrook would be a busy man if all he did were to help his wife rear their two children and serve as a case manager for the Salvation Army on behalf of homeless veterans in and around the Flint Hills. But he does much more.

Last November, running as a Democrat, he lost his bid to serve Manhattan in the Kansas Legislature. At about the same time, repelled by the increasingly extreme nature of the Kansas Republican Party, he and several like-minded individuals established the Moderate Party of Kansas. At present, it’s a political action committee with Mr. Estabrook as its president. Elevating it to the point that it can become a force in Kansas politics is a monumental undertaking. Among other things, it takes publicity, money and people.

For instance, it will take the signatures of 16,776 registered voters in Kansas for the Moderate Party of Kansas to be able to nominate candidates for the general election.

But Mr. Estabrook isn’t just president of the Kansas Moderate Party and endeavoring to gather enough support for it to nominate candidates; he’s also announced his desire to become the new party’s first candidate. He is considering running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Pat Roberts, who is expected to run for re-election. Mr. Estabrook’s political concerns include improving the lot of military veterans. “Nothing is more important to me than protecting our veterans, “ said Mr. Estabrook, who is a veteran of combat in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to another of Mr. Estabrook’s commitments, one that gives us pause. He was elected in April to the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education and attended his first meeting as a voting member last Wednesday. And we cannot help but wonder whether he can focus on meeting the needs of the district’s students when he’s simultaneously focusing on building support for the Moderate Party and perhaps his own run for the U.S. Senate.

We took issue with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach when he said he would continue to consult with other states on immigration and other issues in his spare time because in our view, he owed the citizens of this state his full commitment. Although school board service is voluntary and part-time, we would expect Mr. Estabrook to limit distractions.

We’re also troubled that while serving on the school board, which is nonpartisan by design, he is committed to state politics and building a partisan political party. Yes, board members are permitted to hold political views, and some might even be drawn to the Moderate Party. But as Joe Knopp, a former state legislator whose wife, Nancy, served multiple terms on the school board, pointed out in a letter several months ago, school board members have traditionally left their partisan politics “at the school house door.”

Mr. Estabrook is convinced that he will be able to give his full attention to the district and its students. We’re less certain, but perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He must know, however, that we, along with this school district’s patrons, will be watching.

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