November 28, 2023

Steven Monacelli: These Are The Right-Wing Ideologues Taking Over School Boards

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Writing for the Texas Observer, Steven Monacelli outlines the network of right wing operatives working to commandeer Texas school boards.

On August 15, 2022, members of the Carroll Independent School District (CISD) board of trustees, all dressed in Southlake Dragons’ green, posed for a photo with representatives of Patriot Mobile, a Christian Nationalist phone company that spent big last spring to help secure the victories of three trustees. The occasion honored the company’s donation of posters that read “In God We Trust.”

The trustee’s acceptance of the red, white, and blue star-spangled posters immediately drew opposition from critics who see those words not just as a motto that appears on dollar bills, but also as a declaration of allegiance to conservative causes. One disapproving parent attempted to donate signs with the same words in Arabic and on a rainbow background but was rejected; the board president said they already had enough.

Other school districts got the posters around the same time. And not all parents who spoke out were critical.

Erik Leist, who resides in the neighboring Keller ISD area, spoke to multiple news outlets about the posters after they were donated. He approved of the state law passed in 2021 that requires schools to display donated signs bearing the national motto in a “conspicuous place.”

“If it’s important to communities, the community will come behind it,” Leist said, according to accounts published in Fox News and the Texas Tribune that identified him only as the father of a kindergartener.

Leist, however, is much more than a concerned dad: He’s a conservative political consultant who at the time had already been paid tens of thousands of dollars by multiple PACs to support the campaigns of new ultraconservative school board members in Carroll and neighboring school districts, trustees who were eager to accept those posters and who later passed policies restricting students’ access to library books and rolling back accommodations for  LGBTQ+ students.

Leist is just one well-connected node in a sprawling, hydra-like network of PACs and consulting firms that increasingly are targeting Texas school board races and politicizing those formerly low-budget, nonpartisan campaigns, an investigation by the Texas Observer reveals.

The Observer’s examination of campaign finance records shows that dozens of ultraconservative school board candidates around the state have been backed by PACs that collectively employ a handful of conservative political consulting firms.

Read the full piece here. 

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