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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

After Chariho's narrow escape from a right-wing takeover, focus on 2024

How communities can protect school boards from 'extremist' takeovers

Brandon Gage

Future school committee member?
School board elections are part of the bedrock of local democracy. In Ohio, Washington Monthly's David Pepper explains, community grassroots efforts have thwarted attempted takeovers by right-wing culture warriors, and Pepper believes that the Buckeye State can serve as a model for districts throughout the whole country.

"Two conservative board members faced reelection in November 2022, and a third Republican-held seat was open. (Board of Education elections are officially nonpartisan, but the major parties generally endorse candidates.) Eleven of the 19 members are elected, with the others gubernatorial appointees," Pepper writes. 

"First elected in 2018, Jenny Kilgore had spent much of the prior two years fighting to rescind a resolution against racism that the school board had passed following the 2020 murder of George Floyd. She participated in protests against teaching critical race theory in schools (even though it's not taught in Ohio public schools). 

Tim Miller, appointed by Republican Governor Mike DeWine in 2021 to fill a vacancy in an elected seat, also voted to rescind the anti-racism resolution. These and other actions turned the once-quiet school board into a vicious political battleground."

Pepper recalls that "three candidates—two former teachers themselves—ran for those seats promising to end the culture wars," noting that they "faced difficult odds of being elected in 2022, a year that was mostly a smashing success for Ohio Republicans. DeWine won reelection in a landslide. 

The Donald Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance held off a spirited Democratic challenge for an open U.S. Senate seat. Republican supermajorities in both statehouse chambers grew even larger. Yet all three of these Democratic Board of Education candidates won, flipping control of the elected makeup of the board."

Yet "despite enormous advantages," Pepper continues, "most conservative education board candidates lost in Ohio—even in conservative districts. Similar school board election outcomes occurred in 2022 and 2023, from Wisconsin and Illinois to North Carolina and Texas."

Pepper identifies "three key reasons" why what happened in Ohio is replicable nationwide:

First, unlike statehouse races, local races occur within school districts' boundaries. This means they're generally not in gerrymandered districts where outcomes are often preordained. Similarly, state school board districts, like those in Ohio, tend to be less one-sided.

Second, these races are generally nonpartisan—party ID is not listed on the ballot. This creates opportunities for hard-working and dedicated candidates and coalitions to overcome knee-jerk partisan politics in their community.

Third, and most importantly, those who oppose banning books stand on the side of the people. As much as the far-right may press a censorship agenda, it (like most of their policies) remains underwater with Americans. Deep underwater.

Citing polling, Pepper infers that "most people don't want someone else's parents or some outside group telling their kids what they can read or what ideas they can consider. I sure as hell don't. Like me, most trust teachers, schools, and librarians to do the job, and they vote accordingly."

Because "state and local school board races are the front lines in the battle against censorship. And the struggle for democracy," Pepper concludes by encouraging citizens to "leave no seats uncontested. Anywhere," "leave no incumbent extremists unchallenged. Anywhere," and to "take it as your responsibility to fill these seats wherever you are. And if the candidate taking on that run is not you, help them in any way you can."

Pepper's complete analysis is available at this link.