San Francisco voters recalled three progressive members of the San Francisco Board of Education by landslide margins on Tuesday.
Huge majorities of voters in this heavily Democratic city voted to recall Board of Education president Gabriela López (75%), vice president Faauuga Moliga (72%) and commissioner Alison Collins (79%) in San Francisco’s first recall election since 1983.
- Mayor London Breed (D) hailed the results. Breed said the elections demonstrated the importance of having a Board of Education that does not “get distracted by unnecessary influences or political agendas.” Breed will pick replacements for the three ousted board members.
- Parents initiated the recall campaign in response to the Board of Education’s January 2021 decision to rename 44 schools while keeping those schools closed to students. The “controversial public figures” the schools were named after included George Washington, Paul Revere, Abraham Lincoln and sitting US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
- Parent recall activist Siva Roy said of the results, “It’s not about symbolic action, it’s not about changing the name on a school, it is about helping kids inside the school building read and learn math.”
- Asian American and in particular Chinese American voters turned out in “unusually large numbers,” furious over the Board’s plan to eliminate merit-based admissions to elite Lowell High School which had a 55-percent Asian American student body.
- Commissioner Alison Collins called an admissions policy that resulted in a majority Asian American student body a “racist system,” described Asian Americans as “house [expletives],” and accused Asian Americans of “using white supremacist thinking to get ahead.” She was recalled by the largest margin out of the three defeated board members.
- The New York Times called the recall “an earthquake” and described the defeat of liberal politicians in liberal cities as part of a “trend” of Americans rejecting the Democratic Party’s “leftward lurch.”
- Sounding like Michael Scott discussing his flaws, the Washington Post said the recalled board members were “too focused on racial justice.”
- Mother Jones wrote about “what pundits don’t understand about the San Francisco recall,” calling the core issue of the recall putting “performance over performativeness.”
- Commentary classified the election as a contest where “competence trump[ed] ideology,” describing it as a “Democratic mini-civil war” that can’t be explained away by standard left-right culture war narratives.
- National Review published an editorial on “the trouncing of the San Francisco School Board,” arguing the election shows that “ordinary people aren’t interested in radicalism” and “when they see its results, they are repelled by it.”
- Fox News reported that Republicans saw the signs of a “red wave” in the school board recall, predicting that Democrats “ignoring parents” would pay dividends for them in the fall.
Parent activist and recall leader Siva Roy boiled the election down to a single, simple request of the San Francisco school board: “help kids inside the school building read and learn math.” So many politicians seem to have lost the plot. School re-naming’s, symbolic changes – these are luxury priorities that can and should only come after the basic tasks have been achieved. In San Francisco, that meant opening the schools and letting kids come inside and learn.
Scholar and writer Yuval Levin has described this phenomenon as elected officials using their institutions as “stages” rather than doing the basic nuts and bolts of the job. This happens on the federal level with legislators who’d rather use their positions to essentially become taxpayer-funded Twitter trolls or to book themselves spots as cable news talking heads than write legislation or do the basic constituent services that can actually help people. It’s gotten to the point where some members have gutted their legislative staff in favor of communications staff who can help get them attention.
The San Francisco recall proved that large swaths of voters are still concerned with the basic functions of government and not the performative politics that characterizes much of our political debate. If politicians aren’t responsive to the people they serve, they’ll deserve the same fate that befell Lopez, Maliga and Collins.
© Dominic Moore, 2022