How Schools Shaping Virginia Governor’s Race
WINCHESTER, Virginia – As a longtime Republican in her home state of Virginia, Tammy Yoder votes faithfully for those who want to cut taxes, oppose abortion and support other conservative causes.
But the question that turned Ms. Yoder, a stay-at-home mom, from a reliable voter to the kind of person who brings three young children to an evening campaign rally was not her Christian values or her wallet.
It was something even more personal, she says: What her children are learning in school.
“Last year told me a ton of things,” said Ms. Yoder, 41, as she awaited a speech in the northern Virginia suburb of Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor. “The more I listened and paid attention, the more I see what is happening in schools and on college campuses. And the stuff I see, I don’t want to corrupt my kids.
From struggles for evolution to desegregation to prayer, the battles for education have been at the heart of the cultural issues that have divided the country for decades. But not quite like that.
After months of closed classrooms and wasted learning time, Republicans in Virginia are putting schools at the center of their latest push to take over the governor’s office, hoping to rally Tories to both their frustrations with mask warrants and mandatory vaccinations and their fears of what their children are being taught.
Vocal groups of parents, some led by Republican activists, are organizing against school programs, opposing public health measures and calling for the recall of school board members. And Mr Youngkin, a former private equity executive, capitalized, seizing Conservative concerns about education on race and the rights of transgender children to say Democrats want to come between parents and education. of their children.
Mr Youngkin’s attacks forced Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor trying to get his old job back, on the defensive, and pushed the usually local issues surrounding schools amid a fierce shouting match on the scale national.
The Virginia run offers an early electoral test of this conservative energy.
A victory for Mr Youngkin would mark the first statewide victory for Republicans in a dozen years and would likely spark political panic within the Democratic Party over its prospects for the midterm elections of next year. Some Republican officials and strategists compare the rise in activism to the Tea Party, the anti-government movement that helped them take control of the House in 2010 and sparked a resumption of the politics of outrage that would define their party for the next one. decade.
“There’s so much attention on schools, and it’s visceral,” said John Whitbeck, former President of the Virginia Republican Party in Loudoun County, where acrimonious school board meetings have led to arrests, death threats and constant airtime on conservative media. . “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m against the debt ceiling.’ It’s like, ‘You are destroying our children’s education.’ And, look, angry people are voting.
Polls in recent weeks have shown a close race, with Democrats less excited than Republicans to vote. Mr McAuliffe, who was banned for re-election in 2017 by Virginia law, does less well in the fast-growing, voter-rich suburbs of Northern Virginia than Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, when he won four years ago, according to some surveys.
Mr. Youngkin’s emphasis on schools may not resonate as strongly with the general electorate.
Measures like mask and vaccine warrants cut differently in the race for governor in more liberal New Jersey and are extremely popular among Independents and Democrats in Virginia. Critical race theory – an advanced academic concept usually not introduced until college – is not part of classroom instruction in Virginia and many voters say they don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.
And turning schools into cultural war zones by denouncing equity initiatives, books with sexual content, and public health measures avoids tackling issues like budget cuts and other more thorny issues facing the government. American education is facing.
But in an election out of year, when both parties anticipate a sharp drop in the vote, victory may depend on which candidate best motivates their base. Mr Youngkin and his strategists believe that in the battles rocking schools, they have uncovered the rare problem that can galvanize their constituents, even in places that tip the state to the left.
Frustration with education is an issue that unites Republicans, energizing moderates keen to ensure their children stay in school as well as conservatives who see a liberal plot to indoctrinate their children with the belief that Whites are inherently racist.
“The former governor says, ‘Hey, I’ll decide how to teach your kids, not you’ – that’s really the problem driving this,” said John Fredericks, who led Donald Trump’s campaign in Virginia on last year. “Glenn Youngkin is the candidate who has managed to straddle both sides of the party. And so far he’s given us just enough where we can enthusiastically vote for the guy.
Republicans centered much of their closing argument on a statement by Mr McAuliffe during last month’s debate.
The comment came after Mr Youngkin attacked Mr McAuliffe over his 2017 veto on a bill allowing parents to not allow their children to study material deemed sexually explicit. The argument was sparked by a mother who objected to her son, a high school student, reading literary classics, including “Beloved” by Toni Morrison.
Mr McAuliffe countered that he did not think “parents should tell schools what to teach”. In the weeks that followed, he maintained those remarks, saying the state school board and local school boards should determine what is taught in the classroom.
But Mr Youngkin and the Republicans, stripping the quote out of context, turned the images to the heart of their argument that Mr McAuliffe would side with the government on parents.
Video of the remark was featured in a flurry of digital ads and a statewide television commercial accusing McAuliffe of being “on the attack on parents.” Mr. Youngkin’s team began scheduling “Parents Matter” rallies in exurban counties as they actively court militant parent groups.
And Mr Youngkin also expressed his support for Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher in Loudoun County. Mr Cross was suspended after announcing at a school board meeting that he would not address transgender students by their preferred pronouns because of his Christian faith.
At a campaign rally last week in Winchester, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley in one of the rapidly growing exurb counties around Washington, Mr. Youngkin made little mention of Mr. Trump, vaccines or the coronavirus. Instead, he repeatedly cited school issues as top priorities.
He elicited the loudest applause from a predominantly white audience when he vowed to ban critical race theory on his first day in office and vowed that schools would never be closed again.
“This is what a great government means to Terry McAuliffe. He doesn’t just want to stand between you and your kids. He wants to make the government a tool to silence us, ”Youngkin told the crowd of nearly 200 at a farm stall. “It’s no longer a campaign. It is a movement. It is a movement led by parents.
Mr McAuliffe called the outrage surrounding critical breed theory “racist” and “dog whistle.” It supports mask and vaccine mandates for students, teachers and school staff. (Mr Youngkin says he encourages Virginians to get the coronavirus vaccine but does not support warrants.)
But there are signs Democrats are sensing the danger.
Mr McAuliffe’s campaign has returned to highlighting his education proposals to undermine any argument that Mr Youngkin could be stronger on the issue, promising to invest $ 2 billion in education, d ” increase teacher salaries, expand pre-K programs and invest in broadband access for students. On Friday, Mr McAuliffe released an announcement saying Mr Youngkin would cut billions of dollars in education funding and bring “the educational policies of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to Virginia.”
Parent organizations in Virginia say they are non-partisan and focused more on school board elections than national politics. But many are led by Republican activists, fundraise from Republican Party donors, and are aided by conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, which has held briefings to discuss model legislation aimed at block critical race theory. Last month, the Republican National Committee aired ads attacking “fascist mask mandates” and highlighting video clips of angry parents yelling at school board members.
Erin Holl, a Republican voter from upstate Frederick County, considered herself conservative but not necessarily political. It was before the coronavirus. Months of learning online with her young daughters and shutting down her dog-sitting business changed her focus on the governor’s race.
“I gave birth to her,” Ms. Holl said, pointing to her daughter. “I have the right to say how she is brought up. I have the right to say how she is vaccinated. It changed my perception of politics.