Since Tuesday, headlines across the country have highlighted crushing defeats book-banning school board candidates, often associated with Moms for Liberty, suffered on Election Night. That trend carried over into Texas elections, too— but only to an extent.
Let’s jump quickly into the good, bad, and mixed results from Tuesday night.
The Worst: Cypress-Fairbanks ISD
There’s no sugarcoating this one.
In my Book-Loving Texan’s Guide to the November School Board Election, I called Cy-Fair ISD the race to watch in this cycle. The district was one of the first in the state to feel the anti-“woke” wave in November of 2021, when three candidates swept onto the board by campaigning against “critical race theory.” This year, the remaining four seats were open, and allies of those three anti-woke candidates were hoping to take full control of the board. Those stakes, along with the sheer size of the district,1 made this Tuesday night’s most consequential election.
And the odds were not on the good guys’ side. All the book banners needed was one win out of the four seats; they had massive financial advantages2 and the vocal support of the Republican Party. On top of all that, in two of the races, multiple strong candidates threatened to split the pro-education votes.
Nonetheless, I was cautiously optimistic because of the amazing work done by two groups in the district, Cypress Families for Public Schools and Cy-Fair Strong Schools. Those groups organized early, and they worked hard, knocking on doors, hosting events, strategizing.
But it wasn’t enough.3 Cypress Families for Public Schools endorsed a slate of four candidates, all women, called All4CFISD. Only one, incumbent Julie Hinaman, won.
So the other side didn’t just luck into their wins, and it would be a mistake to ignore the strategy they used to attract voters in a relatively high-turnout election. In an excellent post-mortem published this week, local leader Bryan Henry pointed out that mostly involved activating the partisan instincts of local Republicans.
That took two forms: on one hand, anti-public-education group Texans for Educational Freedom blasted the district with mailers suggesting the (bipartisan) All4CISD candidates were wild-eyed liberals, Marxists, and aligned with conservatives’ worst nightmares (Beto O’Rourke, New York teachers’ unions). It was a slimy, negative move that echoed Texans for Educational Freedom’s deceptive tactics in previous races. But for the framing to work, the reactionary candidates also had to come off as traditional, even institutional, candidates to draw in Republicans who (in other districts) have been reacting against extremist trustee candidates. To that end, they distanced themselves from Indemaio—one of the district’s most prominent book banners—and courted and received endorsements from institutional Republicans, including Ted Cruz.
You’ve probably seen the headlines saying that nationally, book-banning was a losing issue on Tuesday, with Moms for Liberty losing the majority of races where they endorsed a candidate. The Cy-Fair conservative bloc’s decision to run as buttoned-up Republicans rather than fire-breathing book banners made sense given that national mood, and it certainly worked on Tuesday.
See here for some background. Two of the three wingnut winners (plus one of the good guys) did so with less than fifty percent of the vote, which had led me to say they were headed to runoffs, but Cy-FAIR ISD doesn’t do runoffs, so that’s that. There were some good results elsewhere, including in HISD, and despite losing the forces for good in Cy-Fair made some progress and laid groundwork for the next elections. The main point here is that we need some better strategies for winning in areas like that where just coming in as Democrats and progressives can be alienating for at least some of the voters we need to persuade to win. That has to be driven by the locals, and it may be that the best thing those of us who are on the outside can do is just follow their lead, which may mean largely being quiet. That’s very much not in our nature and goes against a lot of instincts, but the success of the wingnuts in portraying themselves as the mainstreamers needs to be a lesson to absorb and adapt to.