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Michigan voters elect Democrats to state university boards despite GOP fearmongering

Republican candidates including GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon campaigned against LGBTQ rights and racial equity in public schools. Voters didn’t buy it.

By Adrian Cole - November 14, 2022
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer (right) and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II (left) during a Get Out the Vote Rally with President Barack Obama ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (R) and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II (L) gesture during the rally. Michigan Democrats hold a Get Out the Vote Rally for Governor Gretchen Whitmer with President Barack Obama ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. (Photo by Dominick Sokotoff / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Republicans in Michigan campaigned against LGBTQ rights, “critical race theory,” and coronavirus-related school closures during the 2022 midterm election.

On Tuesday, Democrats Pamela Pugh and Mitchell Robinson defeated GOP candidates who ran for seats on the Michigan State Board of Education. They also won two seats on each of the governing boards at Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan. In addition to Democrats Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson winning reelection, state Democrats also gained control of both chambers of the Michigan Legislature.

The Michigan State Board of Education is responsible for curriculum standards, appointing the state superintendent, and acting in an advisory capacity to the school system in general. Michigan is one of four states that elects university board members, and the only one that does so via statewide elections.

The eight-member board of education currently has a Democratic majority of five members, with the governor able to appoint another member.

Pugh, one of the Democrats elected to the board, told MLive on Tuesday: “I really look forward to getting back to the to the work at hand, making sure our children have educators who are well paid and well respected, helping to assess the needs of our children post-pandemic and making sure that that we’re creating the environments and putting forward the best tools and education for them.”

Adrian Hemond, CEO of the consulting firm Grassroots Midwest, said he believes the votes reflected a rejection of the educational policies on which Republicans campaigned.

“What those results are reflective of is the overall performance of the Democratic ticket,” Hemond told the American Independent Foundation. “Literally, no one knows who those people are. The voters are voting on pure partisanship.”

Education was a key component of Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon’s campaign against Whitmer. She advocated for banning educators from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation, along the lines of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, and for banning so-called “critical race theory” — a catch-all term conservatives use to describe teachings about racial equity — from Michigan schools’ curriculum.

Dixon also made school privatization the centerpiece of her education platform. Dixon has close ties with Betsy DeVos, who served as former President Donald Trump’s secretary of education. DeVos promoted a system of school vouchers, which critics say siphons money from public education.

Josh Cowan, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, said Dixon ran on “school vouchers, culture wars, and a weaponized notion of parenthood.”

“Tudor Dixon was the avatar for school vouchers, attacks on LGBTQ+ kids, book bans and CRT, not just in Michigan but from Dixon’s regular perch as a Fox News guest,” Cowan told the American Independent Foundation. “What’s important to understand is that in Michigan the DeVos family is the Republican Party. So not only did their hand-picked stand-in Tudor Dixon lose, their candidates up and down the ballot lost too.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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