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Moms for Liberty and the ‘parental rights’ agenda flopped in this week’s elections

Voters rejected school board candidates using ‘manufactured’ culture wars to win elections

Alex Woodward
Thursday 09 November 2023 21:43 GMT
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Related: Chris Christie blames Trump ‘poison’ for disappointing GOP performance in elections

Right-wing activists using local school board races to push for greater control of public education didn’t make a dent in Tuesday’s election results.

One year away from the 2024 presidential election, voters largely rejected candidates backed by groups like Moms for Liberty that have aligned with GOP campaigns to undermine public education and restrict access to books, classroom materials and honest discussions of race, racism, LGBT+ people and gender and sexuality.

Moms for Liberty founder Tiffany Justice told former Trump aide turned podcaster Steve Bannon this week that the organisation has helped elect 365 candidates to local school boards within the last two years.

The group added 50 on Tuesday – among more than 24,000 seats up for election this year.

On its website, Moms for Liberty removed its list of endorsed candidates for 2023 shortly after Tuesday’s elections. A list of endorsed candidates for 2024 elections, as well as a 2023 “win report” from this week, are “coming soon”.

Candidates endorsed by groups like Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project lost roughly 70 per cent of their races, according to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest education union, which has roughly 1.7 million members. Both groups have disputed those counts.

The 1776 Project reported that 58 per cent of its candidates, most of which are in Republican-leaning areas, won their races, while Moms for Liberty reported that 40 per cent of its endorsed candidates won.

Moms for Liberty backed dozens of candidates in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania, where right-wing groups have tried to make headway into swing districts surrounding the Philadelphia area. They overwhelmingly lost, and Democratic-backed candidates won new school board majorities in two school districts.

In Loudoun County, Virginia, where volatile school board meetings became a national springboard for reactionary agendas, only one of Moms for Liberty’s four candidates prevailed.

All nine seats on the board were up for grabs on Election Day. The county’s school board will retain a 6-3 liberal majority. Voters also gave Virginia’s state legislature a Democratic majority, dealing a major blow to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

In Ohio’s Stark County, where nearly 59 per cent of voters went with Donald Trump in 2020, only one of nine Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidates won their elections. In Hamilton and Franklin counties, only two of eight Moms for Liberty-backed candidates in each county won their elections.

And in Iowa, a state won by Mr Trump in 2020, and where Moms for Liberty backed 13 candidates in four counties, voters elected only one.

Four of its 19 candidates won in New Jersey, and none of the group’s candidates in Minnesota and Washington won.

Among the 250 races tracked by the American Federation of Teachers, 80 per cent of its preferred candidates won their elections on Tuesday.

Campaign for Our Shared Future, founded in 2021 to combat such right-wing campaigns, said 19 of its 23 endorsed candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia won their elections.

In a statement, the group said that “voters supported candidates running to strengthen public schools, get our students the support and resources they need, address educator shortages, ensure our children don’t have fewer rights than we did, and keep students safe from gun violence.”

The group said this week’s election results should “permanently retire the myth” that Moms for Liberty and similar groups represent American families.

“Their votes sent a resounding message – we don’t like political interference when it comes to our kids, according to Campaign for Our Shared Future director Heather Harding. “Tuesday’s results shined a spotlight on the candidates who ran for the wrong reasons, and politicians should take notice.”

Moms for Liberty emerged from right-wing outrage during the Covid-19 pandemic as schools shifted to remote learning and implemented public health guidance like mask requirements.

The group, which has attracted support from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials who have focused on culture war flashpoints, has since grown its membership to roughly 100,000 people in more than 250 chapters in 42 states.

During last year’s elections, Mr DeSantis – who is running for the Republican nomination for president in 2024 – made unprecedented endorsements by stepping into local school board races and endorsing Moms for Liberty members and other far-right candidates, while members of the group offered their support for a slate of legislative priorities and echoed the DeSantis administration’s agenda.

Their “parental rights” campaigns have sought to punish teachers and undermine teachers’ unions and combat inclusive classroom curriculums. Members have promoted removing books from school libraries, accused teachers of promoting “pornography” and “grooming” for LGBT+ inclusive materials, and launched a crusade against honest discussions of race and racism in the uproar against “critical race theory”.

The group’s endorsed candidates have relied on attacks against transgender Americans, as Republican lawmakers across the US file record-breaking numbers of bills to block trans young people from receiving affirming healthcare or from using bathrooms or playing sports consistent with their gender.

Right-wing groups and Republican campaigns have tried to “target parent voters with a false narrative about ‘parental rights’ that hinges on a manufactured sense of distrust, chaos, and loss of control that Republicans themselves have created to stoke fear in parents,” according to Alien Arreaza with parents’ activist group ParentsTogether Action.

“And we saw that agenda fail,” she said in a statement following Tuesday’s election results.

Roughly 64 per cent of voters – including 72 per cent of Democratic voters and 55 per cent of Republicans – believe anti-trans legislation has become “political theater” used as a wedge issue in the hopes of attracting votes, according to 2023 polling from Data for Progress.

Most Americans also want libraries – not elected officials – deciding what’s inside them, according to a Grinnell College National Poll. More than six in 10 Americans are less likely to support a candidate that wants to “ban books in schools and in school libraries on subject matter that deals with sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos Poll.

Moms for Liberty was designated an “anti-government extremist” organisation by the Southern Poverty Law Center in its latest review of the state of hate groups in America. The group’s founders have rejected that characterisation and said the group is “devoted to empowering parents to be a part of their child’s public school education.”

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