School board elections across the US are turning nasty

Posted by News Express | 21 October 2021 | 316 times

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When Nikki Hudson drove to a local strip mall in Worthington, Ohio, to collect a corsage for her daughter’s homecoming, she was met with two billboards plastered with her name.

One declared her a failure. The other said she should put kids before her political agenda.

“It’s like nothing you would ever imagine in a local race,” Hudson told CNN.

She’s talking about her race for reelection to the Worthington School Board.

Nikki Hudson says she sees these signs almost every time she leaves her home.

Four years ago she remembers going door to door in the well-off suburbs of Columbus, trying to drum up interest in her platform of tackling the ageing school infrastructure. She came top of the ballot with more than 7,000 votes in what felt like a traditional local contest.

But this year, the fractured national political climate has been replicated in heated school board meetings over issues like mask mandates and race equity.

That passion is now being reflected in contentious elections in Ohio and across the country, many with a new, negative undercurrent in the traditionally low-interest polls.

In Worthington, the billboards, yard signs, negative mailers and door hangers are more reminiscent of a divisive presidential or hotly contested congressional race than what would be expected for an off-year vote in the grass roots of American democracy.

Hudson and other board members say they have received threats from members of the community in email, texts and mail.

One mailed letter said, “We are coming after you,” and that board members should be tried for treason, in part for “poisoning the minds of children” because of the belief the board is mandating critical race theory. Hudson said that’s not the case.

“We want to be a part of selecting the curriculum for our children. We will protest in front of your homes, day and night,” the letter said.

The letter was postmarked in Columbus, and said it was from a member of a group called Citizens to Remove CRT From America. CNN could not find a record of the group.

“You have become our enemies and you will be removed, one way or the other. Have a miserable, miserable day for the rest of your life you filthy traitor,” the letter said.

Hudson said she expected to be challenged on her decisions, which have been far from universally popular, particularly a board vote to end a contract with police to provide school resource officers that triggered debates about race and law enforcement.

Worthington voters will get their democratic say on whether Hudson deserves another term, but she did not expect the vitriol facing her from billboards and yard signs across the neighborhood.

“They are putting tens of thousands of dollars into targeting me and smearing me,” said Hudson.

She doesn’t even know who is funding some of the opposition For instance, the billboards are cloaked behind an organization called “Save Worthington Schools,” which became an LLC in August 2021. CNN has been unable to contact any people associated with the group despite emails and phone calls.

“It is essentially dark money,” Hudson said about the lack of transparency. “As a school board member, when you have someone in your community that is upset about an issue or a decision, the first thing that you do is engage and you have conversations so that you can better understand their viewpoint and what’s going on. This structure allows zero opportunity to engage.”

The negative attacks and the mailed threats have made her more hesitant, even though she said she is ready to have passionate discussions around schools.

“I just am very just very cautious knocking on doors,” she said. “I still do it, but it definitely has a different feeling right now.”

‘Never seen anything like that’

Hudson’s fellow school board member Charlie Wilson, who’s lived in the mostly White, upper-middle-class town for 40 years, said he’s experienced strong objections to some of his stances, but not personal attacks.

“These so-called outsider groups are sending out scurrilous, untrue, highly defamatory attacks on a school board member who is running for reelection,” said Wilson, whose position is not up for vote this year. “And we’ve certainly never seen anything like that.”

Wilson, a past president of the National School Boards Association, said he’s been aware of intense votes in big cities but this year the pressure is widespread and particularly charged.

Coupled with the anti-Hudson billboards, are yard signs on tidy front lawns around Worthington, that seem innocent enough. They promote a slate of three school board candidates, – Jennifer Best, Kelli Davis and Brian Steel – to fill the three positions up for election.

But Davis said she has nothing to do with the other candidates and condemns the use of her name alongside others. Steel said he wasn't consulted. Board incumbent Best told CNN she also didn't know about the signs before they were made and is focused on running her own campaign.

Davis said the arrival of the signs provoked such tension, she released a statement condemning them, despite the promotion of her candidacy.

Kelli Davis is disowning support from a group that calls on voters to back a slate of candidates. (VOA)

Source: News Express

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