Moms for Liberty’s far-right agenda rejected by voters

Moms for Liberty’s far-right agenda rejected by voters

Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich, left, and Tiffany Justice, speak at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia, Friday, June 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

By Isabel Soisson

November 13, 2023

Moms for Liberty-backed school board candidates lost big in their respective elections last week, representing a serious rebuke of the far-right organization focused on book banning, educational censorship, and attacks on public education. 

The group—which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as an “extremist” group—endorsed hundreds of candidates for school boards across the country, only for the overwhelming majority of them to lose as parents rejected their agenda.

In Johnston, Iowa, none of the four candidates who had Moms for Liberty connections—Lori Stiles, Charles Steele, Michelle Veach, and Josh Nelson—managed to get more than 3,900 votes. The foursome lost to incumbents Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher and Jennifer Chamberland and newcomers Jason Arnold and Lya Williams, who won two of the open seats on the Johnston School Board.

Moms for Liberty suffered losses in Iowa’s Linn-Mar School District as well, where a small group of parents filed a lawsuit last year over a policy to protect transgender and nonbinary students. The policy was ultimately gutted by Republican state lawmakers this year, but has nonetheless hung a black cloud over the district. Last week’s school board elections, however, served as a referendum for supporters of the policy. 

Left-leaning candidates Justin Foss and Katie Lowe Lancaster joined incumbents Barry Bucholz and Brittania Morey in winning this year’s four open at-large seats. Conservative candidates Tom Law, Kevin Slaman, Laura Steffeck, and Jodi Terharne—who counted Moms for Liberty among their supporters—were unable to win a single seat despite courting voters angry over the board’s previous LGBTQ policy.

The same thing happened in the other school board races across Iowa. In fact, of the 13 candidates that Moms for Liberty backed across the state, only one actually won a race: Nathan Gibson who won a seat on the rural Interstate 35 School Board.

Moms for Liberty and candidates who embraced their culture war agenda also fell flat on their face in Pennsylvania, particularly in the Central Bucks School District, where the right-wing majority school board—including two members who were part of a local Moms for Liberty Facebook group—lost. All five Democrat school board candidates in the district won their races, flipping the board after two years of intense fights over library book restrictions, curriculum, and student gender identity.

The same thing happened in the nearby Pennridge School District, where all five Republican candidates, two of whom are incumbents, lost their election bids after filling the curriculum with right-wing propaganda about slavery.

Name the state and you’ll find similar results. 

In North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District Board of Education, a Moms for Liberty-backed candidate lost to a Democrat. All four Moms for Liberty-backed candidates in Minnesota lost their races, as did all four candidates in Washington state. Every Moms for Liberty-backed candidate in Kansas also lost. Four Moms for Liberty candidates won in New Jersey, but 19 of them lost. In Ohio, 20 candidates backed by the group lost, and only five were elected. Only one of the six candidates the group endorsed in Virginia won her race.

Speaking on the Virginia election results, National Education Association President Becky Pringle said that voters in Virginia and across the country “sent a clear message.” 

“In this election, voters turned out in large numbers to elect leaders focused on partnering with parents, grandparents, and educators to help every student thrive – no matter their race, place, or background,” she said in a statement.

The school board results were part of a broader backlash to Moms for Liberty-backed candidates and other right-wing culture warriors who’ve sought to attack public education.

Earlier this year, a majority of Moms for Liberty-backed candidates in Wisconsin and Illinois lost in local government races as well. The group said that just eight of its candidates won their races in Wisconsin; the group had endorsed candidates in another 20 elections. 

All in all, Moms for Liberty backed more than 130 candidates running for office last week, and only about one-third of them won their races, according to an analysis from Indivisible. Moms for Liberty itself claims the number was higher, though still below 50%. 

An election analysis conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second biggest teachers’ union, also found that in 250 races across the country, candidates running for different positions who were supported by opponents of traditional public education lost about 80% of the time.

“These results underline what families have been telling us for the last two years: they don’t want culture wars; they want safe and welcoming public schools where their kids can recover and thrive,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “Voters want government to support them, not ban books, censor history, or limit their reproductive choices. They want public schools strengthened.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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