The Far Right Is Taking Over Florida School Boards, Thanks in Part to Dark Money

Republicans are claiming a massive victory after a number of Florida school board candidates — who enjoyed unprecedented support from right-wing groups and politicians — won their races Tuesday. In total, five school boards in the state flipped to conservative control, including Sarasota County, which will now have a 4-1 conservative majority, and Miami-Dade, which will become the nation’s largest school district to be overseen by elected conservatives.

Many of the candidates received endorsements and campaign support from right-wing activist groups like Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project PAC — founded in 2021 explicitly to support right-wing school board candidates — as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a man who has attacked public education as a savior. cornerstoneHis administration and Rep. Byron Donalds (a Florida Republican who has argued that “the battle for our country” runs through America’s schools. (Donalds’ wife, Erika Donalds, runs a consulting business dedicated to launchingHillsdale College, a prominent conservative Christian school, has charter schools.

Mid-July: Salon reportedDeSantis spoke extensively at the first national summit for Moms for Liberty. He highlighted some of his endorsements of Florida school board candidates. Tuesday afternoon, he spoke at length at the first national summit of Moms for Liberty. He highlighted some of his endorsements of Florida school board candidates. tweeted a list of 30 such candidates on the ballot that day, declaring them all “committed to the student-first principles of the DeSantis Education Agenda.” Twenty-five of those candidates ended up winning their elections, prompting Steve Bannon, CEO of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and former White House chief strategist, to crow about “the moms who are taking over the school boards.”

Other conservatives were also involved in the races and were quick to take credit for the victories. On Tuesday night, 1776 Project PAC founder Ryan Girdusky tweetedAll counties where his group had run had been flipped. Moms for Liberty marched Wednesday boastedIt had backed 43 candidates that had either won or advanced to the next round of runoffs.

Girdusky shared the results Breitbart News, showed parents’ desires to reject “transgender ideology, critical race theory, critical gender ideology, and equity which destroys merit in education.” On Tuesday night, the PAC tweeted, “Yesterday a Texas school board that we flipped last May banned CRT and gender ideology. Today, our PAC was able to flip FIVE Florida school boards, including Miami Dade, from liberal to conservative. We are removing left-wing ideologies from our schools one county at a time.”

Other conservative actors were also involved. Hemant Mehta is a podcaster and writer. reported this week, the pastor of a Palm Coast church in Flagler County, Greg Peters, recently brought three conservative school board candidates on stage, citing the candidates’ endorsements by the 1776 Project PAC and urging his roughly 1,000-member congregation to vote for them “in order for the school board to be flipped from liberal to conservative.” Should they win, said Peters, the candidates “will rise up against a woke agenda and they will seek to promote truth as it is spelled out clearly in [God’s] word.”

Jill Woolbright (incumbent) was one of the three candidates. news for a separate church appearance in recent weeks, where she described her time on the school board as spent battling “satanic” forces. “I have never in my life been in such a satanic warfare, spiritual warfare, that I’ve felt for the past two years on the board and especially during this election season,” Woolbright said, calling for a “breakthrough” that would institute a “conservative, God-fearing majority on our board.”

Moms for Liberty is a grassroots organization that claims to be a non-profit. However, it has many supporters. tiesto powerful conservative leaders and organizations, as well as an opaque but substantial financial support from right-wing groups. Maurice Cunningham, the author of The 2021 Book, was interviewed in July Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, argued at the Tampa Bay Times that Moms for Liberty’s rapid nationwide expansion had occurred “at a pace that only a corporation’s monetary resources could manage.” The same month, Politico reported that Julie Jenkins Fancelli — the heir to the Publix grocery store fortune who also donated $650,000 to fund Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, plus $60,000 to cover Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speaking fee that day — has supplied nearly the entire budget of the the Moms for Liberty PAC. The PAC in turn contributed modest donations to more than 50 school board candidates, earmarking the rest for advertising campaigns to replicate its success “all over the country.”

A number of Florida’s conservative school board candidates also benefited from the in-kind support of conservative activists and media, who helped stir up controversies about their opponents or their existing local school board composition. Christopher Rufo, an anti-CRT activist who is also a Manhattan Institute fellow, was on Tuesday. re-publicized the claims of a father in Clay County — another district that will now have a conservative majority — who charged that the school district had “secretly transitioned” his child by using the pronouns and name the student requested.

Breitbart’s second story featured another Duval County school board member who was defeated last week. story charging that she had used racist language against a Black conservative working with Moms for Liberty, by referring to her as a “token.” And earlier this month, conservative media and influencers, including the high-traffic right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok, sharedA video of Tom Edwards, vice-chair Sarasota School Board, speaking at a community event forum for educators concerned about Florida’s revisionist new civics standards, that there are Florida school board members who “are ‘woke’” and who are “working from the inside” to protect teachers.

“You need to know, we have your backs,” Edwards told a panel of educators at the forum. “And we’re working in the best strategic spot because we’re on the inside.”

The story was picked up by conservative media outlets and shared. Fox News, BreitbartMoms for Liberty, which tweeted, “Yes, please woke school board members — be more vocal about your plans to subvert parental rights.” The video was originally posted by Christian Ziegler, vice-chair of the Florida Republican Party and husband of current Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler — who herself has been a formidable right-wing activist, helping draft DeSantis’ 2021 Parents’ Bill of Rights and serving as one of the original co-founders of Moms for Liberty.

Dan Goodwin, a reporter for Ars Technica, wrote on Twitter last week, the story led to a string of slurs against Edwards, who is gay, claiming that he was “pushing the child grooming agenda.”

The race in Sarasota also saw a number conservative supporters: Robyn Marinaelli, Timothy Enos and Ziegler. All three were also endorsed and supported by the 1776 Project PAC. Moms for Liberty also supported Enos, Ziegler, and Enos. A right-wing PAC called ABCD campaigned on behalf of the three candidates under an acronym of their last names, “ZEM,” including by driving a mobile billboard around the area that called one of the trio’s opponents a “LIAR” and “BABY KILLER” because she had once worked at Planned Parenthood. (Goodwin also noted that a campaign leaflet promoting the “ZEM” slate called their opponents “BLM/PSL/ANTIFA RIOTERS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD BABY KILLERS, [who] WANT GROOMING AND PORNOGRAPHY IN OUR SCHOOLS.”)

DeSantis was so outraged by the mobile billboard, even though it violated norms for school board races that they are supposed not to be partisan, he condemned it. Yet according to local parent and public school advocate Jules Souliere, the far-right groups ended up becoming the campaigns’ most obvious street presence.

“The Republicans didn’t want the ‘ZEM’ signs, but on every street corner, Proud Boys were out there waving them,” Souliere told Salon. “The Republicans ran a normal campaign for their candidates but the ZEM promoters, made up mostly of Proud Boys, Moms for America [a distinct right-wing group from Moms for Liberty]Other extremists, such as [Michael] Flynn, were the ones with boots on the ground out there doing the work for the Republican-backed candidates.”

Souliere co-authored an opinion piece for the New York Times in late 2021. Herald-Tribune denouncingOne Sarasota School Board member and another candidate were invited to speak at a town-hall event sponsored by Proud Boys members. The Sarasota Democratic Party was founded earlier this month. decried the “ugly politicization” of the school board races, noting that one of the “ZEM” candidates, Marinelli, had been forced to withdraw from a campaign event in June “when it was learned that members of the terrorist group the Proud Boys were listed as VIP attendees.”

But in the end, Florida Republicans won. Christina Pushaw, DeSantis spokesperson, shared the Libs of TikTok posting of the Edwards video on Twitter Tuesday night. writing, “Sarasota School board had a 3-2 liberal majority. Today @RonDeSantisFL endorsed candidates won and flipped the school board so it’s now 4-1 anti wokes [sic] indoctrination and pro parental rights.”

Overall, conservatives throughout Florida and elsewhere were happy. The 1776 Project PAC was proud of Wednesday’s win. inviting readers on Twitter who “want us to get involved inA school board race” in their districts to apply for an endorsement. And groups and figures from the PAC’s Girdusky to Moms for Liberty to Florida first lady Casey DeSantis all sounded a common message: They were just beginning.

On Tuesday night, there was some momentum in the opposite direction. In Flagler County, incumbent school board member Jill Woolbright — she of the “satanic warfare” — lost her re-election bid after student activists campaignedShe was to be replaced. Woolbright had also tried to remove an LGBTQ-themed book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” from school libraries, even filingA criminal complaint should be filed with the county sheriff.

The Alachua County school board was a target of DeSantis for having resisted his 2021 ban on school mask mandates. None of the candidates supported by the governor won. Former district superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon — who was firedIn March, DeSantis resigned from a seat on the school board that was vacant. homeschooling missionary and local Republican operative — heralded the defeat of the conservative candidates there on Wednesday. “DeSantis pumped major money into our county to turn Alachua’s School Board ‘Red.’ He failed miserably!!” tweetedSimon founded Families Deserve Inclusive schools, a progressive PAC. “Every candidate he funded/endorsed lost with huge margins. The appointee he inserted to terminate me… she’s gone too! Stop meddling @RonDeSantisFL, we don’t want you here!”

DeSantis endorsed a candidate in Polk County which is deep-red. surprising outcomeNotes Billy Townsend, an education author and former school board member. Two liberal candidates lost in races for four open seats. One of them was the first openly LGBTQ person to ever be elected. electedA Florida school board. Townsend explains that a number Republican voters may have defected from the conservative party to vote for a third, liberal candidate.

“They succeeded in drawing some blood, most notably in Sarasota County,” Townsend told Salon. “But strong, fighting school board members stood their ground and won big battles in Alachua, Monroe and Seminole counties.” (Among those victories was Sue Woltanski, a board member in Monroe County who spoke to Salon this winter about Hillsdale College’s influence in Florida education.) “It’s a fight with angry cranks,” Townsend concluded. “It’s not won, but it’s not lost either.”