In another universe, Edward Stephens is a political star.
He's young (24), engaged in the community, smart. A big, athletic-looking man, he graduated from the Park Hill School District in 2006, shows up at every school-board meeting, and works as an assistant electrical engineer in the nuclear division of engineering firm Burns & McDonnell.
In that other universe, Stephens' campaign for a seat on the Park Hill Board of Education — which elects two new members April 3, during a sensitive time for the district — would make his star burn bright.
He says he's neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and according to his platform, he's a low-taxes local-government-firster. He talks about how the Park Hill School District gets 4 percent of its funds from the federal government and he complains about the federal rules that come with it — not worth it, he says, the kind of answer that resonates with many a libertarian and tea partier.
There's just one problem with this would-be golden boy, and it's summed up by the four words The Pitch found on Stephens' personal Twitter account: "Race is the matter."
In a 70-minute phone interview with The Pitch, the candidate doesn't shy from that stance.
"We celebrate, and have celebrated for many years, a history month in our school district that is dedicated specifically to the accomplishments and the standards of the black race," Stephens, who is white, says. "Yet there is no month dedicated to the history and the advancement of the white race. That, to my mind, is abusive."
There's also too much emphasis, according to Stephens, on Native American history in the schools. "We should focus more as a district on programs that are going to focus on, basically, the white men that founded this country and built this country," he says.
KC Education Enterprise sent a questionnaire to the Park Hill school-board candidates, and in a written response (Stephens was one of two who completed it), Stephens named some of the challenges facing the Park Hill School District: budget accountability, student safety and "the population of Whites [capitalization his] dwindling."
"I don't want to see white people flee the Park Hill School District," Stephens explains. He sounds surprised when asked a follow-up question. "Why don't I? I don't think it's good for white people to flee."
He pauses again, as if the answer were self-explanatory, before silence goads him on.
"It's very simple," he says. "As the population of whites in a school, say, in one of our schools decreases, the number of free- and reduced- [lunch] students increase." OK, so the school ends up paying for more poor kids' lunches. That's unacceptable, he explains, because that just lures more poor people to Park Hill at a time when the district should, he says, "encourage" certain "economic groups" more than others.
He's not talking about black people specifically, he says, though he adds that they tend to be poorer.
"There is a link between the races and the preponderance of the free- and reduced-lunch program," Stephens insists. "It's there. It's in black and white. And I'm not willing to ignore that link, and I'm not willing to ignore that link to be politically correct."
This sums up the essence of the young contender's campaign — dogged, unafraid, politically incorrect. Also: hugely uncomfortable for many of the people around him.
"This kind of hate towards children and their families is horrific," Andres M. Dominguez commented in the "Citizens for Park Hill Schools" Facebook group. "This evening I mentioned his presence at public meetings and feel that he poses a threat to public safety and that whenever he is present security needs to be elevated."