Johnston School Board gains progressive edge as Moms For Liberty candidates flop

The four winning Johnston candidates for school board at their election watch party

By Nikoel Hytrek

November 7, 2023

In a room packed with supporters, candidates, Johnston residents and plants, cheers rose up as Jason Arnold and Lya Williams won two of the four open seats on the Johnston School Board while incumbents Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher and Jennifer Chamberland retained their seats.

The foursome, who worked together on the campaign trail, held a watch party at Pots & Shots in West Des Moines were dozens upon dozens of supporters joined them for their triumph.

The newcomers earned the most votes of eight total candidates. Williams won with 5,202 votes (14.51%) and Arnold earned 5,186 votes (14.46%). The incumbents also broke 5,000 votes with Mangra-Dutcher winning 5,165 (14.41%) and Chamberland with 5,083 (14.18%).

None of the four candidates who had Moms for Liberty connections—Lori Stiles, Charles Steele, Michelle Veach and Josh Nelson—managed to hit more than 3,900 votes.

The four candidates ran on handling issues like bussing, approving curriculum to serve all students and improving the culture at the school so every person’s needs—from students to parents to teachers—are met.

“I think it’s going to be great, I really do,” Mangra-Dutcher said. “Everybody put in a good fight. Our community really stepped up and supported the best for, you know, our kids. And I’m super proud of that. I’m super proud of our community for doing this.”

Arnold watched the results come in from his laptop in the corner of the room and as soon as all 16 precincts reported, he announced the good news to the gathered crowd.

“We felt good going into the evening, but we weren’t exactly sure how the results were actually going to pan out. And the numbers speak for themselves. We blew it out of the water,” Arnold said.


The four winners join Derek Tidball, Clint Evans, and Deb Davis, Moms for Liberty connected candidates who were elected in 2021. The trio have inserted culture wars into district decision-making with attempts to ban books, vouching for a student club connected to national white supremacists and blocking a diversity audit to assess how students are performing, how students and staff feel about the district, and what improvements the district needs.

All four recognized that this win is the beginning of a long road of change the district has to make, but they’re hopeful the numbers show that the community is on board and they’re ready to get to work.

“This shows me that the district is definitely ready for change,” Williams said. “[I’m] so thankful for all the community that has shown up to show me so much love. That hard work does pay off, and we really want to do what is best for all our students.”

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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