California school board races don’t see the red wave

Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Polaris

Billie Montague, 2, puts a vote sticker on her nose as she watches her mother, Ashley Montague, vote in Newport Beach in 2020.

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Parental angst over school closures and Covid protocols didn’t seem enough to overthrow California school board seats in more liberal parts of California, despite efforts by the state’s Republican Party and government officials. other conservative groups.

The state GOP Parent Revolt program and other conservative organizations have spent more than a year recruiting, training and endorsing an army of candidates in an effort to win what are generally considered nonpartisan seats. Their goal: to overthrow school boards to promote conservative issues, including the fight against educational policies on gender identity and racial equity.

The outcome of these efforts is difficult to know at this time, as the dust has yet to settle on many closer races. The state’s shift to mail-in ballots is also expected to delay results, as late-arriving ballots are counted and signatures verified. Although all ballots must be postmarked by November 8, ballots that arrive at polling stations within a week of that date are counted.

Shawn Steel, who represents California on the Republican National Committee, said efforts to overthrow the school boards would continue for years to come. He chose not to be interviewed for this story because the results are not final.

Moms for Liberty, a conservative organization, endorsed 270 candidates nationwide, including 50 in California. Opponents of the organization have called their stances bigoted, homophobic, racist scare and extremist, according to Newsweek.

The group has focused much of its attention on Santa Clara County, where it has endorsed eight candidates. Only one candidate appears to have won a seat.

Moms for Liberty-endorsed nominee Marc Cooper has the third-most votes in a tight race that will decide three trustee seats on the Franklin-McKinley School District Board of Trustees in San Jose. He has 17% of the vote, behind Steve Sanchez and Rudy Rodriquez who have 19% and 18% of the vote respectively. Three other candidates are within three percentage points of taking one of the seats, according to results updated Wednesday afternoon. Rodriquez was endorsed by the county Democratic Party.

Morgan Hill Unified candidate Dennis Delisle was also endorsed by Moms for Liberty. The businessman was the only candidate for the seat until the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about racist and homophobic statements he made in a book he authored. The article prompted two candidates to join the race just before the filing deadline.

One of the challengers, retired school librarian Terri Knudsen, was in the lead with 43% of the vote on Wednesday. Delisle had 29% and lawyer Armando Benavides had 28% of the vote. Both Knudsen and Benavides were endorsed by the county Democratic Party.

“I think voters trust teachers and librarians, and people with experience in education,” Knudsen said. “I was going door to door and trying to connect with as many people as possible. They seemed very happy that I was running.

Morgan Hill has a community of Democrats and Republicans who don’t always vote along party lines, she said.

“Applicants with extreme views are less likely to be supported by parents and families on Morgan Hill,” she said. “It’s more of an intermediate base that doesn’t want politics to invade this space. We want the best for children.

Knudsen didn’t have much time to campaign, but she received help from the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers who made phone calls and knocked on doors for her.

“When your teachers call and say they support these people and know about education, that’s a big help,” Knudsen said.

In more conservative parts of the state, like Placer County near Sacramento, the efforts of the Republican Party and other conservative groups have generated great excitement and crowded school board races.

Moms for Liberty took a particular interest in school board races in that county, endorsing 23 applicants. Destiny Christian Church of Rocklin has also partnered with Christian advocacy group the American Council to recruit candidates to advance a “biblical worldview,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Although most Placer County residents are conservative, Roseville, a suburban town near Sacramento, is more politically mixed. Jonathan Zachreson is running for one of three vacancies on the Roseville City School District Board of Trustees. He was backed by the Republican Party, Moms for Liberty, the American Council and Kevin Kiley, who is running against Democrat Kermit Jones for a seat in the US House.

After schools were closed by Covid-19, Zachreson, a father of three, created the Reopen California Schools Facebook page to give a voice to parents frustrated with the closures, and later mask and vaccination mandates.

Despite the endorsements and exposure, Zachreson is tied for last place with an opponent with similar endorsements, Kent Meyer. The two had around 17% of the vote Thursday morning. The top voters were incumbents Alisa Fong, with 29% of the vote, and Rob Baquera, with 21% of the vote. Fong is supported by the Republican Party and Kevin Kiley, while Baquera is not supported by any political party.

Zachreson, like Knudsen, says he wants to make sure politics doesn’t creep into the classroom. Instead, he says, the school should focus on core academics. He would like schools to stay away from controversial or “burning” issues around gender and racism.

If Zacherson wins a seat, he plans to meet with teachers to discuss the possibility of the district’s teachers’ union splitting from the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“What are roadblocks? I’ve heard some want to leave the union and there are benefits that keep them there,” Zachreson said. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate to find out what those things are and help them do that.”

In nearby San Juan Unified in Sacramento, candidate Jeffrey Erik Perrine, a member of the far-right Proud Boys, is losing his bid for a school board seat. He recently told The Sacramento Bee that he wants teachers to focus on teaching, not indoctrinating students.

Perrine was not approved of by the Republican Party, which ousted him from the party after learning of his affiliation with the Proud Boys, who were aligned with white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Instead, the GOP endorsed Tanya Kravchuck, a child protection worker. She leads with 42% of the vote, closely followed by incumbent Michael McKibben, a retired education administrator, who holds 38% of the vote. Perrine has 21% of the votes.

In San Diego, GOP-backed candidate Becca Williams is in a tight race for a seat on the San Diego Unified Council. She takes on Democrat Cody Petterson, who teaches anthropology at UC San Diego. Petterson leads 53% to his 47%.

That race has become a partisan brawl over abortion, vouchers and Texas, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Political action committees have spent more than $367,000 supporting or attacking the two candidates, according to the newspaper.

Williams, a director of a curriculum company, is endorsed by the state’s Republican Party and the American Council. Petterson is endorsed by the San Diego Unified Teachers Union, which has called Williams a “MAGA extremist,” a “Covid conspirator” and a “Texas Republican,” according to the San Diego-Union Tribune.

The California Teachers Association typically offers endorsements in about 500 school board races each election year and has not increased endorsements this year, according to a spokesperson.

Far-right provocateur and political commentator and retired San Francisco Giants slugger Aubrey Huff failed in his bid to win a seat on the Solano Beach School District Board of Trustees in San Diego County, Sports Illustrated and other media reported.

Huff, who has no political endorsement, lost to incumbent board vice chair Debra Schade 1,505 to 362 in the two-way race. Little was known about Huff’s campaign platform and his personal website made no mention of his candidacy.

Citing Huff’s offensive political stances and offensive comments about women, the Giants banned Huff in 2020 from attending a 10-year reunion of the franchise’s 2010 World Series championship team. Huff “has made multiple comments on social media that are unacceptable and go against the values ​​of our organization,” a team spokesperson said in a statement at the time.

Twitter also permanently banned Huff in 2021 for repeatedly tweeting false information about Covid-19 vaccines. He had also tweeted violent threats against former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

EdSource reporter Thomas Peele contributed to this report.

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