Conservatives Seek Local Election Wins to Stack Team Bench

Conservative activists are setting their sights on elections for school boards, town halls and county councils.

It’s not small-ball politics, they say, but a way to harness the grassroots movement of protests against COVID-19 mandates and liberal education policies to help build a bench of future conservative leaders.

“It’s kind of like we’ve been snobs. It’s like, we’re so focused on the presidency, Senate, Congress, all these Washington, DC options, which are really important, but it’s like, we gave away our communities,” American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp told The Washington Times Saturday during the Conservative Political Action Conference.

He went on, “We allowed everyone to be on the zoning board who didn’t believe in building anything and everyone to be on a school board who thought parents were domestic terrorists. How about election officials? Like we just didn’t get focused on these things. And we need to be a grassroots movement… we got to focus on each and every one of these communities.”

Mr. Schlapp noted that the ACU, which hosts CPAC each year, must support local conservative grassroots movements, despite its Washington D.C. beltway location in Northern Virginia.

“We fail to be a grassroots movement, if we’re a Washington, DC movement. But we give real thought to the idea of why we are so focused on Washington DC. Yes, it’s important, but we got to be focused on each and every one of these communities,” he said.

Conservatives discovered how much impact their local school boards, election boards and city councils had on their lives at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a wave of recall efforts against school board officials and local campaign launches.

Just last year, according to Ballotpedia, school board recalls hit an all-time high. Between 2006 and 2021, the website documented an average of only 32 recall efforts each year against an average of 76 school board members. However, in 2021, Ballotpedia recorded 92 school board recall campaigns against 215 board members.

“There’s so much more that can be learned at the local level. I come from California, born and raised in Redding, California, in Redding, California, they literally have taken back their board of supervisors,” CPAC speaker David Harris Jr., an entrepreneur and podcast host, told the audience. “This group in Shasta County, started at the local level. They got to the school board meetings. They got into the board of supervisors meetings and they recalled the main Chair of the Board of Supervisors. They were taking their county back.”

Some conservatives say the Republican Party was led astray from local races by political consultants looking for big paydays from Senate, House and presidential campaigns.

“Too much of the focus has been on consultants and super PACs, and moving big, large amounts of money where people have made made profits off of this rather than stocking the bench,”Mike Bayham a member of  Louisiana’s Republican Central Committee told The Times.

“We need to have people who can move up and the local races are where you get your people to start off. The emphasis has always been too much top-down with the party,” he said. “They’re starting to realize that needs to go from the bottom up.”

Mr. Bayham says that liberal Democrats are running long-shot candidates for local races in Louisiana because they intend to build a foundation, while the GOP is looking away.  

“The [GOP] got too comfortable being at the top, and they’re trying to manage everything from the top down. The Democrats are trying to build the foundation to grow later on.”

Conservatives often received their political activism cues from powerful syndicated talk radio hosts, the internet, and cable news, leading them, some say, to focus exclusively on national issues happening in Washington.

WIBC Indianapolis talk radio host Tony Katz does local morning drive radio and a later midday program that focuses on national issues for his audience. He says that local talk radio is probably the last media watchdog to inform political activists about what is going on in their back yards.

“It’s local newsrooms that are missing in so many places that make it harder to know about local issues,” he said. “One is that they think the local stuff is boring. And the National stuff makes them popular. It gets the click on Facebook, it gets the moment on Twitter.”

He added, “That’s been the problem and the people who have kind of hopefully started to reverse that trend are the moms who have been fighting the school boards and people realizing what happens in my backyard what happens in that town that no one ever drives through?”