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Memo 06.14.2021 15 minutes

Fighting Critical Race Theory, One Door at a Time

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A vigorous fight in a small Texas city unseated advocates of a pernicious racial theory.

The tide is turning in the fight against Critical Race Theory (CRT). Following the exposure in 2020 of CRT training in agencies throughout American government, the Trump Administration issued a ban on CRT at the federal level. President Biden overturned that ban on his first day in office, but the war has gone on—and it’s turning in the direction of reason, common sense, and the American tradition of equality before the law. State legislatures from Texas to Florida have put forward bans on critical race theory. Meanwhile, local activists and parents have taken the fight to their local school boards.

On May 1, two school board candidates in Southlake, Texas converted these media, administrative, and legislative advances into a political win. In a high turnout election marked by intense media coverage, the two anti-CRT candidates for the Carroll ISD School Board won in a landslide—by a 40-point margin. The Southlake victory provides a blueprint for conservatives elsewhere to emulate as they fight to win elections against CRT in school boards across America.

Carroll ISD’s Five-Year Plan

In the fall of 2018, a video of several teenagers singing along to a rap song went viral; the song’s lyrics included a racial slur. The video was filmed at a private post-Homecoming party in Southlake, a largely conservative suburb of Fort Worth and Dallas. The teens were students at Carroll ISD, the prestigious public high school that consistently ranks among the top school districts in Texas. Progressive activists wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to implement (CRT) in Carroll ISD.

The district formulated a “Cultural Competence Action Plan” (CCAP), which set forth ambitious goals, first of which would entail hiring a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) officer to oversee implementation of the Plan. Students and their teachers would be pressed to discover their racial bias and confess their white privilege. Anonymous tip lines would be set up to report alleged “microaggressions” and to impose punishment. “Focus groups” of radicalized students would be organized to report directly to the DEI administration. External auditors would be hired to reshape every District policy, organization, and curriculum in the name of advancing racial equity.

The CCAP adopted all of the quasi-Marxist aims and methods characteristic of CRT. It was even described by its own proponents, unironically, as a “Five Year Plan.”

In some school districts, faculty would have toed the line, parents would have bowed to the wisdom of Progress and Equity, and students would have let it all pass them by. But this is Texas—and Carroll ISD’s mascot is the Dragons.

The Dragons’ Plan

Beginning in 2020, Southlake conservative families formed a political action committee; they filed a barrage of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests; they showed up in record numbers to speak at school board meetings; they educated the community about the evils of CRT; and they recruited winning school board candidates. Hannah Smith and Cameron “Cam” Bryan campaigned for almost 4 months, meeting with community members in 70 meet-and-greets all over Southlake and shared their positive vision for the future of Carroll ISD. Their campaign volunteers went block by block and door by door across Southlake to tell voters the truth about CCAP.

On May 1, Smith and Bryan won with supermajorities of the vote (69 percent and 68 percent, respectively). Local voter turnout for a municipal election broke records, with over 10,000 votes were cast, up more than 150 percent from the previous high.

More than twice as many Republicans voted in the 2021 Carroll ISD election than had voted in any previous May election. In fact, more GOP voters turned out to vote than had turned out in the last two Republican primary elections for President and U.S. Senate!

But massive turnout among independent voters was key to the victory over CRT. In Texas, political affiliation is determined by participation in party primaries, not by party registration, and almost all of the voters who participate in the May elections for school board are also regular primary voters. In Carroll ISD, independents normally make up about 17 percent of the May electorate—an average of less than 500 votes. But this May, independent turnout surged to over 3,500 raw votes and the independent share of the electorate doubled to 35 percent.

There are four lessons to learn from the Southlake victory:

  • Use Freedom of Information Act requests to get the real story
  • Recruit qualified candidates who reflect the community’s values
  • Start early to build a real grassroots base
  • Run a professional political campaign

The Real Story

Unfortunately, many American parents simply don’t know that CRT is being taught in their schools. Once they learn what is being taught, they become overwhelmingly opposed to it. But in order to inform voters about the truth, you need hard facts.

Southlake conservatives submitted hundreds of FOIA requests to get to the bottom of what school officials and their activist allies were really planning and teaching in Carroll ISD. The FOIA campaign ultimately culminated in the criminal indictment of the Carroll ISD School Board president and vice president.

Find Better People

The fight against Critical Race Theory isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue; it isn’t a black or white or Asian or Hispanic issue; it’s an American issue. But the messengers matter. In the Carroll ISD community, where parents are highly educated and engaged, that meant Hannah Smith—a former clerk for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—and Cam Bryan—President of the North Texas Football league—were the candidates that reflected their community’s values. In different communities, the ideal candidate may be different—but they must be able to feel the pulse of their community.

Base Building

The parents of Carroll ISD understood that they faced a highly organized and disciplined opposition, so they responded early with an organization of their own. They formed Southlake Families, a Texas General Purpose PAC (GPAC), which allowed parents, faculty, and friendly allies to donate to support a centralized campaign against CRT. The PAC helped build and organize dedicated community activists—parents, faculty, and students with skin in the game. These activists organized various efforts, donated to support the PACs political efforts, and collectively provided thousands of volunteer hours to the campaign.

Get Professional

Smith and Bryan launched campaign websites and Facebook pages as well as targeted e-newsletters. They educated the community about what was going on in their schools in face-to-face group gatherings. They solicited and received endorsements from current and past elected officials. They created targeted voter lists using modeling with predictive scores. They texted messages to their base, used automated calls to get out the vote, sent multiple direct mail pieces, they made live calls, and targeted voters online with Facebook ads, videos, and other forms of digital advertising. Each candidate’s campaign put up 900 small yard signs and 50 large roadside signs.

A crucial element of the two campaigns was their joint block walking program. The candidates themselves, their campaign volunteers, local precinct chairs, and professional canvassers worked hand in hand, going block by block and door by door to raise awareness, persuade, identify supporters, and turn them out to vote. In all, more than 4,500 doors were knocked by one of their campaign workers.

The fight against CRT never stops: school boards are up for election at different times in different districts all around the country, and not all those districts are in Republican-leaning cities like Southlake. In the same May election in which Hannah Smith and Cam Bryan won the Carroll ISD election outright, another election went into overtime in a city just a few miles away. Shannon Braun, sister of Fixer Upper’s Chip Gaines, challenged incumbent Mindy McClure, but she came up just short of an outright win, garnering only 48 percent of the vote, triggering a runoff election.

Shannon Braun’s campaign in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD didn’t initially attract as much attention as that in Southlake, but it was a much harder fight. GCISD is just a few miles away from Southlake in Tarrant County, but the campaign was very different, and it offers three lessons to anti-CRT candidates around the country.

Pro-CRT school boards and administrators are willing to lie to parents to their faces, and they are even willing to lie on the record. While the Carroll ISD School Board in Southlake barely concealed the fact that were trying to implement CRT, GCISD’s School Board denied outright that it was implementing it, even as multiple FOIA requests revealed that its administrators were embarking on a radical campaign of indoctrination. Just a few days before Election Day, the school board sent out an email blast from its government account, to parents all across the district, stating that all of the accusations against GCISD and Mindy McClure were false—even though FOIA requests clearly indicated that they were true.

It is possible to beat the misinformation campaigns of pro-CRT boards and their administrative apparatchiks with professionally targeted political campaign. The GCISD Board used the local Parent Teacher Association to try to defend its members, but Shannon Braun was able to defeat them by using all the tools of a modern campaign to get her message out. She and her volunteers canvassed door-to-door, using predictive modeling to identify the likeliest voters. They blasted out text messages and voter-targeted digital ads with high-quality advertising content to reach likely voters all across the district, circumventing the opponents’ whisper campaign of email lists and robocalls.  The result was a narrow, hard-fought victory: on June 5, after a long night counting Election Day votes, Shannon Braun beat Mindy McClure 5,174 to 4,723, 52.28 percent to 47.72 percent.

The fight against CRT will not always involve an opponent who is obviously a leftist: Mindy McClure claimed to be a Republican, just like Shannon Braun. McClure tried to use her Republican party affiliation as a shield. She was no leftist activist, she insisted: just look at my primary voting history. But because of Braun’s aggressive campaign, voters saw through her defenses.

Many of the fights against Critical Race Theory will be uphill battles fought between members of the same party. In many of them, the anti-CRT challenger will be forced to fight an uphill battle against an incumbent who is dug in. But the truth about CRT is so explosive that it can shred any defenses. Combined with a disciplined door-to-door campaign, there are few elections against Critical Race Theory that can’t be won.

Victory

All around the nation, like-minded parents, teachers, students, and American citizens are turning the tide in the war against CRT. We are winning battles in public school districts, in private businesses, and in the media. The victory in Southlake for Smith and Bryan shows how to fight the political battles of the war against Critical Race Theory and win—one door at a time.

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