Iowans welcome news of Moms for Liberty school board defeats

Progressive Ankeny School Board candidates their supporters wait for results during a watch party on Tuesday. Photo submitted

By Ty Rushing

November 8, 2023

Candidates backed by Moms for Liberty, an organization that has supported private school vouchers, anti-LGBTQ legislation, and book bans in Iowa, lost in school board races across the state Tuesday.

Since its inception, Moms for Liberty has helped fuel national right-wing culture war attacks on public schools, teachers, and students in Iowa and elsewhere. The group formally endorsed 13 candidates in this year’s Iowa school board races, although plenty of other candidates had support from local chapter members. Only one of those candidates actually won a race, and it was Nathan Gibson who won a seat on the rural Interstate 35 School Board.

“Results of yesterday’s elections demonstrate that voters spoke loudly and clearly about who they want to make crucial decisions affecting all students and educators in their local communities,” said Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) President Mike Beranek.

“Most of ISEA’s recommended candidates won, with more than 85% retaining or being elected to the school board. And equally important, we saw the total defeat in the districts where we engaged the Moms for Liberty candidates and their divisive agenda representing a vocal minority,” he continued.

Keenan Crow of One Iowa Action, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that focuses on legislative policy work and voter education, said they were cautiously optimistic heading into the election based on what they heard from voters.

“We were really elated at the performance of our candidates and the almost universal rebuke of Moms for Liberty members,” Crow said. “It really is a referendum on the anti-LGBTQ and book-banning policies of the Reynolds administration and the politicians that supported her.

“It’s extremely encouraging to see that this book ban thing that we’ve been fighting against for several years or so is just not popular. They thought it was, but not only is it not popular, it’s toxic,” they continued.

Crow noted that when it comes down to it, book bans and anti-trans legislation aren’t winning campaign tactics.

“We’ve seen that not just in Iowa, but all across the country, and not just last night, but for years and years and years,” they said. “There is a basic decency left in the electorate that recognizes that every kid deserves a safe, inclusive space to learn.”

In Johnston, Moms for Liberty was tied to candidates Lori Stiles, Charles Steele, Michelle Veach (she is also a member), and Josh Nelson. They were also endorsed by The Family Leader, a social conservative organization.

All four were defeated by progressive candidates—Jason Arnold, Lya Williams, Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher (incumbent), and Jennifer Chamberland (incumbent)—who were endorsed by the ISEA and One Iowa Action. Their victories give the board a left-leaning majority.

Turnout in Johnston was much higher in this race than it was in 2021. In that year’s race, conservatives Deb Davis, Clint Evans, and Derek Tidball were all elected by less than 3,800 votes. Williams won with 5,202 votes, Arnold had 5,186 votes, Mangra-Dutcher had 5,165 votes and Chamberland had 5,083 votes, while no one in this year’s conservative slate received more than 3,900 votes.

The Johnston Education Association, the local teachers’ union, also endorsed Arnold, Chamberland, Mangra-Dutcher, and Williams in the race. The association put out a congratulatory statement.

“Johnston has elected an outstanding slate of pro-public education candidates,” the group said.

While Moms for Liberty did not formally endorse candidates in the Ankeny race, there was a clear slate of conservative candidates who worked together and who were also endorsed by The Family Leader.

Of the conservative candidates, only Stephanie Gott—who was also endorsed by the ISEA—won a seat. Gott will join fellow victors Katie Claeys (incumbent), Shelly Northway, Amber Romans, and Amy Tagliareni (incumbent) on the school board.

Northway was endorsed by One Iowa Action and ISEA, and Claeys and Tagliareni were endorsed by ISEA. All four left-leaning candidates were endorsed by the Ankeny Parents and Educators for Progress (APEP), a grassroots organization that was formed after conservative candidates swept the 2021 school board races.

“We are so proud to support these exceptional Ankeny citizens who worked so hard, ran strong campaigns, stayed focused on the issues, and showed up for voters,” APEP said in a statement.

Beranek hammed home why these elections were so important and why it was vital that voters support candidates who are pro-public schools.

“Iowa’s public schools are the vibrant heart of communities, nurture minds, foster social connections, and shape the future of individuals and societies,” he said. “Today, we celebrate success in electing so many individuals who support our public schools.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | ELECTION | POLITICS

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