By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican-backed candidates in local school board races have been big winners in suburban Milwaukee, which is critical of the Wisconsin GOP in statewide elections but they got mixed results elsewhere in the presidential battleground state. .
Tuesday’s school board elections in Wisconsin were among the first nationally this year and are the latest sign of how typically non-partisan politicized races for local offices are becoming across the country.
Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican candidate for governor, took the unusual step of endorsing 48 school board candidates. Of those, 34 won, including eight starters, according to preliminary results. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former teacher, school administrator and state superintendent, did not endorse either race.
“The pattern was traditional Republican areas, endorsed candidates did well,” said Michael Ford, an associate professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh who studies school board races. “The places where it’s more ideologically balanced didn’t seem to matter as much.
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Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, was encouraged by the results, saying Republicans should have done better in a year that is supposed to go their way. They needed to perform better in changing parts of the state, he said.
“What we saw last night is a strongly divided state that is likely to hit the brink in the fall,” Wikler said.
Conservative candidates won school board seats in Waukesha, Wausau and Kenosha, but lost in Beloit and the western Wisconsin cities of La Crosse and Eau Claire.
The results reinforce the idea that Republicans’ goal in backing school board candidates in a way they hadn’t in the past was to bolster their base ahead of the midterm elections, Ford said. He also shows that key voters in suburban Milwaukee, who were uncomfortable voting for Donald Trump, backtracked and voted conservative in the school board race, he said.
That could be a good sign for Republicans heading into the fall, when Evers and GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is seeking re-election in November. Johnson spoke last year about the importance of local elections heading into midterm, encouraging voters to “take back our school boards, our county boards, our city halls.”
Republicans also saw victories beyond school board races. the Republican-backed candidate For a seat on the state appeals court in southeastern Wisconsin, Maria Lazar defeated a sitting judge who was appointed by Evers. And Republican state Rep. Samantha Kerkman won the Kenosha County executive race, replacing a Democrat. Republicans also touted victories in other Democratic parts of the state, including winning two of three Green Bay City Council seats and shifting majority control of seven county boards.
Kleefisch has made education one of his main issues, saying Wednesday that the victories “show that Wisconsinites are fed up and want to take back control of their communities, schools and courts.”
GOP-backed school board candidates largely focused their campaigns on the response to COVID-19 in schools, such as mask mandates and vaccination requirements, and exerting more control over what it can be taught, particularly as it relates to issues of race, sex and gender. .
Ballotpedia, which tracks election data, found that there were 53 school board elections in Wisconsin in which candidates took a stand on how race is taught, how schools or districts responded to the pandemic, or issues related to sex and gender at school.
Here’s a look at some of the more notable races:
— Three Waukesha School Board candidates backed by the GOP and Kleefisch won, defeating a slate of teachers’ union-backed candidates from across the state. That was part of a nearly countywide sweep by conservative-backed candidates for school board.
— One of the organizers of a unsuccessful school board recall election In suburban Milwaukee last fall, Mequon-Thiensville board member Scarlett Johnson lost re-election along with another conservative candidate.
— Eau Claire school board candidate Marquell Johnson, who was backed by Democrats, won. Johnson, who is black, released an email he received during the campaign calling for a “White Appreciation Day.”
— Eau Claire school board president Tim Nordin, who urged his community not to “give in to fear,” won. He received a death threat after three conservative candidates for school board seats criticized a teacher education program they claimed could exclude parents from discussions about their children’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
— In the small town of Holmen, a social media post in February featured a flyer asking voters to contact two conservative school board candidates to “Keep Holmen’s schools white and Christian”. The two named candidates who were also endorsed by Kleefisch, Josh Neumann and Chad Updyke, lost. They reported the postcard, which has not been linked to them. They came forward as critical of the school district’s COVID-19 restrictions and against teaching a “divisive curriculum.”
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