An update on school board conflict elections

Welcome to the Wednesday, June 1, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. A deep dive into April 5 school board conflict elections in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin
  2. Montana’s June 7 primaries 
  3. Election preview—Nevada U.S. Senate Republican primary 

A deep dive into April 5 school board conflict elections in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin

Most local school districts hold nonpartisan school board elections. However, some candidates have made partisan issues focal points of their campaigns, giving their elections a partisan appearance. Since June 2021, we’ve tracked elections where candidates have taken a position on race in education, COVID responses, or sex and gender in schools. In November 2021, we analyzed election results in 96 districts. Now, we’ve identified 141 school districts in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin that held elections on April 5 in which candidates took a position on one or more of those three issues.

Incumbents running for re-election in the 141 districts lost to challengers at a rate nearly twice recent averages for school districts in our coverage. From 2018 to 2021, incumbents lost 18% of races where they filed for re-election among those districts within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope—but in the April 5 conflict races, 33% of incumbents lost re-election.

There were 334 seats up for election in those 141 districts, representing 9.7% of all school districts in those states (though not all of those districts held elections on April 5).

Following the elections, we used media reporting, op-eds, candidate websites, campaign ads, and more, to categorize each candidate as either supporting or opposing an issue. In cases where candidate stances were not readily apparent, we labeled them as unclear.

  • Race in education: candidates supporting this issue tend to support expanding discussions of race in the curricula, as well as district-specific equity or diversity plans. Candidates opposing this issue tend to oppose these efforts.
  • Responses to the coronavirus pandemic: candidates supporting this issue tend to support, or previously supported, mask or vaccine requirements, and social distancing or distance learning. Candidates opposing this issue tend to oppose measures their districts either took or considered taking in response to the pandemic.
  • Sex and gender in schools: candidates supporting this issue tend to support expanding sexual education in the curricula or the use of gender-neutral facilities, like bathrooms or changing rooms. Candidates opposing this issue tend to oppose these efforts.

Of the 334 winners, 36% opposed at least one of these three issues, 45% supported at least one and opposed none, and 20% had unclear stances on all three. In our previous analysis of 96 districts that held elections on Nov. 2, 2021, we found that 30% of winners opposed at least one issue, 56% supported one issue and did not oppose the other two, and 14% had unclear stances on all three issues.

In total, 233 incumbents filed for re-election, leaving 101 seats open, guaranteed to be won by newcomers. That represents 30% of the seats up for election, which is similar to what we see among school board districts within our coverage scope, especially in even-numbered years.

Click the link below to see more of this analysis, including a breakdown by conflict issue. 

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Montana’s June 7 primaries 

Yesterday, we looked at two of the seven states holding primaries on June 7—Iowa and Mississippi. Today, let’s take a look at Montana, another state where voters will go to the polls next week. 

At the congressional level, voters will decide Republican and Democratic primaries for the state’s two U.S. House districts (Montana picked up a second House district following the 2020 census). Rep. Matt Rosendale (R), who currently represents the state’s at-large Congressional District, is running in the Republican primary for U.S. House Montana District 2, against three other candidates. Two candidates are running in the Democratic primary. Five candidates are running in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary, while three candidates are running in the Democratic primary. 

Overall, including four libertarians and one independent, 20 candidates filed for the two districts. In 2020, nine candidates ran for Montana’s at-large House district. In 2018, eight candidates ran.

Montana voters will also decide Republican and Democratic primaries for 25 districts in the state Senate and all 100 districts in the state House. Republicans control the Senate 31-18 and the House 67-33. Thirty incumbent state legislators—24% of those with expiring terms—are term-limited. Montana is one of 15 states with legislative term limits. Legislators can serve eight years in office during any 16-year period. These are not lifetime limits, meaning legislators can run again after spending the requisite amount of time out of office.

Two seats on the Montana Public Service Commission are also up for election. 

From 2005 to 2020, Montana had a divided government until Republicans gained the governorship with the election of Greg Gianforte (R).

In Montana, the primary candidate with the most votes wins—even if that candidate receives less than 50% of the total vote. Montana is one of 40 states without primary election runoffs. The state does not cancel uncontested primaries, and write-in candidates are required to file. 

Click below to read more about Montana’s June 7 primaries. 

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Election preview—Nevada U.S. Senate Republican primary 

Eight candidates are running in Nevada’s June 14 GOP Senate primary. Incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) is running for re-election in the Democratic primary. 

Three election forecasters rate the general election as a Toss-up. Politico’s Sabrina Rodriguez wrote, “Republicans […] see Nevada as one of the prime states to pick up a Senate seat.” Sam Brown and Adam Laxalt have led in polling and fundraising.

The grandson of former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) and the son of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici (R), Laxalt served as attorney general of Nevada from 2015 to 2019 and was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2018, losing to Steve Sisolak (D) 49.4% to 45.3%. Former President Donald Trump (R), Sen. Ted Cruz (R), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), and other national Republican figures have endorsed Laxalt, and Laxalt has made these endorsements a key part of his campaign message.

Brown, a small business owner, served in the U.S. Army until 2011. In 2008, while deployed in Afghanistan, an IED explosion wounded Brown. Brown has highlighted that experience and his recovery process throughout his campaign. Brown was a candidate for Texas House District 102 in 2014 before moving to Nevada in 2018. On May 2, delegates at the Nevada Republican Party state convention voted to endorse Brown.

Both Laxalt and Brown have highlighted immigration as a key issue. Laxalt’s website says he supports the “remain in Mexico” policy (officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols), a policy under which the U.S. returns to Mexico citizens and nationals of countries other than Mexico while their U.S. removal proceedings are processed. Brown has said the length of the immigration process should be expedited, but said he “opposed amnesty in any way, shape or form.”

William Conrad, William Hockstedler, Sharelle Mendenhall, Tyler Perkins, Carlo Poliak, and Paul Rodriguez are also running in the primary.

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