This election has a lot of similarities – and a few differences – to the school board election of 2014. As you know if you were following along at the time, the 2014 election was marked by a few unusual and important factors.
912 plays a major role recruiting, coordinating, and supporting candidates
2014: 912 TN President J. Lee Douglas, who later did a petition for the removal of Dr. Looney, saw the election of 2014 as an opportunity to “take” the school board. 912 had been diligently vetting and supporting school board and county commission candidates for several election cycles. Every single one of the winning challengers was endorsed by the 912 TN President, and five out of six (Dan Cash is the exception) were members of 912. 912 and their allies’ (including the Republican Women of Williamson County or RWWC) efforts were very successful in 2014.
“If we take the Board this time, we’ll know that our work has been worth it.” – J. Lee Douglas
2016: Douglas indicated in a December 2015 Tennessean article that he planned to be involved with expanding the number and strength of 912’s representation on the WCSB. Douglas has not (yet?) done a blanket list of endorsements as he did on his page in mid-July 2014. He did endorse Joey Czarneski, who is running against incumbent Anne McGraw in District 4.
“I think you haven’t seen anything yet. Seeing what took place last election, those people that opposed my viewpoints — they’re going to be out.” – J. Lee Douglas
State legislators and their candidates
2014: After Reps. Glen Casada and Jeremy Durham fought Superintendent Mike Looney on several educational policy issues (including their efforts to allow larger class sizes) at the state legislature, Casada and Durham showed a high level of engagement in the 2014 campaign, and between them supported all the challengers in contested races and uncontested Paul Bartholomew. Casada and Durham hosted challengers’ campaign kickoff parties, and Durham was one of Susan Curlee’s biggest donors.
2016: Casada is still in the mix, at least somewhat. He told someone that “Chuck Shelton has found someone to run against Bobby [Hullett].” Shelton is a 912/Casada political operative involved in “vetting” and “encouraging” candidates to run in 2014, who was so much a part of the board that he sat at the WCS staff table (and ate the dinner supplied to board members!). Chuck Shelton (in purple between Cooper and his campaign manager) was also involved in Stuart Cooper’s first event as a school board candidate.
In February 2015, Jeremy Durham told Rick Wimberly that he was:
“…going to spend $50,000 and knock on every door in Westhaven three times to make sure [Rick Wimberly isn’t] re-elected” – Jeremy Durham
National special-interest money
2014: The 2014 election marked the first time the Williamson County School Board saw a huge influx of national special-interest money. Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of “dark” dollars (unreported on campaign filings) on last-minute mailers in support of Burgos, Cash, Curlee, and Emerson. The Arlington, Virginia-based pro-voucher group publicly took credit for the sweep of the school board seats.
2016: Will we see this again? We don’t know. In 2014, the mailers arrived in the days right before the election. We do know that AFP has remained closely connected with several WCSB members. In August 2014, Beth Burgos attended the AFP national summit in Dallas and appeared in a promotional video for the 2015 national event in Ohio but would not answer whether or not she attended that year. In June 2015, Susan Curlee traveled to Sumner County with AFP TN Director of Communications Tori Venable and Julie West to talk about her 2014 WCSB election with SURG (the Sumner County Tea Party). Julie Mauck, a big AFP fan, administered a Facebook group that included Burgos, Curlee and Tori Venable of AFP until the spring of 2016 when the group presumably became private.
2014: The big issue affecting the race in 2014 was Common Core, an issue that actually had to be addressed by the state legislature (rather than the local school board). In 2015, the legislature repealed Common Core. Less publicized issues included textbooks and Dr. Looney’s performance, both of which surfaced as major issues in the last two years..
2016: There doesn’t seem to be one big organizing issue in 2016 as there was in 2014.
Parent and community engagement
2014: Parental and broad community engagement in the election was partial and late. Most community members outside of the WWTN/Tea Party/912 activist communities were unaware of those groups’ deep antipathy to Dr. Looney, of the fights about textbooks that had preceded the election, and the level of organization of the coordinated campaigns. One long string of emails between school board members, legislators, and local 912 activists bore the title “SCHOOL ELECTIONS: It’s all about Dr. Looney.”
2016: Certainly parents and teachers are somewhat more engaged than in 2014? WCS parent Roger Abramson started the WillCo Rising PAC after running the successful Keep Dr. Looney Facebook page last summer. The business community has taken notice of the behavior of the board over the past two years and has gotten engaged as well.
Be informed, be engaged, and VOTE!
Make sure to research the 16 candidates and their endorsements: Updated 2016 WCSB Election Roundup