Minnesota attorney general candidates Keith Ellison and Jim Schultz (pictured above) presented competing programs to address crime at press conferences on July 11, 2022. Photo by Baylor Spears/Minnesota Reformer.
Outside political spending is flooding school board races and bonding campaigns this year, as the once-sleepy contests for jobs that come with little pay are now freighted with polarized politics and culture war issues.
On the school bond side, a GOP-aligned business group is opposing an education funding increase — in Mankato.
The nascent, Minneapolis-based Minnesota Private Business Council has spent $47,600 to influence the bonding referendum there.
The Minnesota Private Business Council, founded by unsuccessful 2022 GOP attorney general nominee Jim Schultz, has been critical of the DFL-controlled Legislature and the “far-left activists implementing policies that hinder the economic growth necessary for the state’s future success,” according to the group’s website.
Their latest project is to discourage voters in Mankato, where Gov. Tim Walz once taught high school geography, from supporting a $105 million bonding project to expand the district’s early learning spaces, improve building security and build a new competition and community-use pool at the Dakota Meadows Middle School, among other projects and building improvements.
Residents will vote on two questions: the first costing $105 million and the second $15 million, though the latter is contingent on the first question’s passage.
The Mankato School District says if both referendums passed, it would add about $12.50 per month on a home valued at $250,000.
The Minnesota Private Business Council gave the $47,600 to the independent expenditure group Common Sense Minnesota, which is using the funds to create negative online ads and mailers.
The Minnesota Private Business Council did not immediately respond to the Reformer’s request for comment about its donation, which was first reported by the Minnesota news and opinion outlet Bluestem Prairie.
Education is at the center of culture war issues Republicans have been driving in the past few years, including opposition to rights for trans children and the teaching of the role of race and white supremacy in American history. In addition, Republicans in the Legislature are currently shut out of power at the state Capitol and are desperate to develop candidates. School boards are an ideal place to start, and outside political groups are spending heavily.
The Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Minnesota Parents Alliance, has raised over $44,000.
But $30,000 of those donations came from one person, Mary Ann Nystrom, who founded multiple behavioral health clinics with her husband Brian.
Brian Nystrom held a training through the Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance earlier this year on student mental health titled “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” according to his LinkedIn page.
Last week, Brian Nystrom posted a picture of himself with Take Charge Minnesota President Kendall Qualls, along with text praising Qualls. The mission of Take Charge Minnesota is to counter “the prevailing narrative in popular culture that America is structured to undermine the lives of black Americans,” according to its website.
Qualls has run for Congress and governor as a Republican, unsuccessfully.
Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union, is also spending heavily on digital ads to combat narratives from right-wing groups. In the Anoka-Hennepin district, Education Minnesota’s political action committee spent nearly $40,000 on the race.
The union’s political action committee also spent over $25,000 on digital ads for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district.
In an email to its supporters asking for more donations, the Minnesota Parent’s Alliance said the union was spending thousands to “keep parents off the school board and achievement out of the K-12 conversation!”
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