The Voters of the Mequon-Thiensville School District Can See What's Going On. Can the National Media?

·5-min read
Photo credit: Andy Manis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andy Manis - Getty Images

The Wisconsin cities of Mequon and Thiensville in Ozaukee County, north of Milwaukee, share a school district and therefore, a school board. (For ancient demographic reasons, Thiensville is completely surrounded, like the hole in a doughnut, by the city of Mequon.) Recently, the Mequon-Thiensville School District has been roiled by controversy over the necessary measures—school closures, masking—the school board took to combat the pandemic. Because Wisconsin used to have good ideas by the bucketful, there are extensive procedures in the state for recall elections. These procedures have been used so extensively over the past year that Wisconsin had more recall petitions lodged against more school-board members than any state except California. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The number of recall attempts against school board members this year in the U.S. — 81 petitions against 209 members so far — is double the total of any previous year tallied by Ballotpedia, a Middleton-based nonprofit. Groups pushing for recalls, echoing nationwide Republican talking points, have said they wanted new board members who would reject guidance from health officials, make masks optional, and clamp down on teaching about the harms of racism.

“Echoing Republican talking points” is nice. I do not believe in the power of coincidence in politics.

But there also is something else about this spate of recall elections. They’ve all lost. Every damn one of them. On Tuesday night, in the Mequon-Thiensville School District, another one of these little tantrums collapsed. There were recall attempts against four members of the M-T school board. All four incumbents won fairly handily. Again, from the J-S:

Over 11,600 ballots were cast. In the April Mequon-Thiensville school board election, there were 6,442 ballots cast, a turnout of about 30%. Recall organizers had pushed the message that academic achievement was declining in the district, arguing that the district's pandemic safety measures and commitments to equity were contributing to that decline. They cited the district's "seven milestones for success," which have shown declines in recent years. Standardized test scores have declined statewide over the past two years as the pandemic disrupted classroom learning.

Well, that’s an anodyne way of summing up the campaign. For some reason, the M-T recalls caught the attention of the national media in a way that the previous school-board recall attempts did not. And, because Wisconsin has become the source point for a great deal of the dark money pollution sluicing into our politics—the Bradley Foundation, the Uihlein family, etc.—the M-T recalls caught the attention of the bankrolling class, too. From WISN:

The effort was launched in August with a successful petition drive. The two sides have been at odds over COVID-19 protocols and critical race theory in schools. The campaign has also drawn high-profile backers, like conservative billionaire donor Richard Uihlein. It's also ignited passions across these communities.

"It's heated. It's getting national attention because these are our babies. This is emotional. This isn't some politician we've never met. This is our community, and these are our children," recall organizer Amber Schroeder said.

There is a national campaign against the public schools, funded by people like Richard Uihlein. This is a longstanding conservative goal, and the fauxtrage against “Critical Race Theory” is merely its latest, and most malignant, vehicle. And the ginned-up tantrums against the public-health measures regarding the pandemic is another vehicle, part and parcel of cynical political manoeuvring that ended up killing people. And, as the Journal-Sentinel reported, the money behind this campaign doesn’t give much of a damn what kind of crackpots it tries to elect to further this campaign. Take Kris Kittell, one of the candidates supported by the people behind the M-T recall campaign.

Kris Kittell shared his post on his Facebook account: "It didn't start with gas chambers. It started with one party controlling the media. One party controlling the message. One party deciding what is truth. One party silencing speech and silencing opposition. One party dividing citizens into 'us' and 'them' and calling on their supporters to harass 'them.' It started when good people turned a blind eye and let it happen.” The post also included the letters "WWG1WGA," an abbreviation often used by QAnon that stands for "Where we go one, we go all.”

Lovely.

My point, at which we have now arrived, is that it is possible to beat the crazy into a fine pulp, at least at the local level. We all agree that Wisconsin, the birthplace of so much of American progressivism as the 19th century became the 20th, went a little nuts at the turn of the last century. But even with that, not one of these recall elections has succeeded, not even this last one, which had the attention of the national media, and which was driven by the same dark money that helped elect Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. The crazy was beaten on the ground, through the hard work of door-to-door local politics. But it takes a lot of grinding grunt work that never will get you into a cable-news greenroom. And it takes a political party willing to spend more time on that than on courting a hopeless elite national campaign media, which has shown less ability to recognise the rise of idiot fascism than did the voters of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, who can rest easily—for a while, anyway. And that’s all I have to say about Election Night 2021.

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