None of the five Republican candidates who campaigned under the so-called “Better Board, Better Schools, Better Futures” (BBBS) slate managed to win a seat on the Durham County Board of Education.

Several of the candidates did surprisingly well in solid-blue Durham, where Democratic Party voters outnumber Republicans five to one.

Curtis Hrischuk and Chris Burns each earned fewer than 1,000 votes, with Hrischuk capturing a little over 9 percent of the District 1 tally and Burns less than five percent in District 2.

Still their fellow BBBS candidates Gayathri Rajaraman finished with 19 percent of the vote in the District 3 contest that was won handily by incumbent Matt Sears with more than 80 percent of the vote, while Valarie Tina Jarvis finished three percentage points ahead of Myca Jeter, who was endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People in the District 4 race, which incumbent Natalie Beyer won. 

Moreover, the January 6 insurrectionist candidate Joetta MacMiller managed to win nearly 17 percent of the vote—about 12 points behind incumbent Frederick Xavier Ravin III, who lost to challenger Millicent Rogers. 

What’s going on here?

The INDY this week spoke with Duke historian Nancy MacLean, the author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.

“Without exit polls or interviews on why the stealth Republican slate captured up to one-fifth of the vote in some of these races, I would not infer motives,” MacLean told the INDY when asked if significant support for the BBBS slate is a harbinger of a lighter shade of blue in Durham’s political future. “But if local Republicans are willing to vote for candidates as extreme as some of these demonstrably were, that is a troubling sign that the MAGA faction which has overtaken the national party has many local followers.”

A troubling sign indeed. 

As previously reported by the INDY, the BBBS slate might be best described with the letter Q followed by “Anon” based on some of the candidates’ social media posts.

MacMiller announced on January 5, 2021, on social media that she had “arrived in DC” at the “Stop the Steal’’ rally that morphed into violence at the US Capitol, where a mob thought it apt to attack police officers and smear feces on the walls.

“It is going to be WILD!!!!!” MacMiller announced, echoing the words of the January 6 insurrection’s chief instigator, Donald Trump, who on December 19 tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

The Durham-based partisan science data firm EQV Analytics first called attention to the GOP stealth slate in a March report entitled, “Can the GOP take over Blue Durham County’s Board of Education” (They’re Betting On It).”

The EQV Analytics report described Hrischuk as “an evangelical Catholic” who “reveals himself on Facebook to be an antisemitic, climate-denying, anti-vaxx creationist in favor of starving local governments (including our public schools) of revenue.”

Jarvis, a GOP Durham County precinct chair, is married to Immanuel Jarvis, the county’s GOP chair, who declared in a July 2020 podcast that being a Black Trumpist is akin to being a “homosexual Black man in the ’70s in a southern state.” Regarding Black voters, he said, “If they had a cardboard box running for president, 85 percent of the African American community would vote for the box.”

Immanuel Jarvis, during the podcast, said he agreed with Donald Trump’s claim that he has done more for Black Americans than Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile, EVQ Analytics reported that Burns is an independent contractor “with zero employees” and who “pocketed over $30,000 in subsequently forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2020/2021.”

Rajaraman, who said she ran for the school board at the behest of Immanuel Jarvis, told the INDY she doesn’t think younger students should learn about topics like the historical racism upon which the nation was largely built.

“Especially at elementary and middle school age, children’s brains are still growing, they are hungry to learn. They should be taught math concepts and science at an early age like they do in countries like India,” Rajaraman said before the election. “Instead we are distracting and overwhelming them with social topics such as racism, [gender identity] and political viewpoints in school classrooms. We are dumbing our kids down while other developing nations are putting focus only on math, science, arts and STEM programs.”

Rajaraman’s sentiments are in concert with GOP legislators at the General Assembly who last year sponsored House Bill 324, which proposed to make white people feel less uncomfortable about the negative aspects of the nation’s racial history.

Weeks before the early voting period began, William Busa, the director of EQV Analytics, told the INDY that he became interested in Durham’s school board races when he noticed that registered Republican candidates had filed to run for each of the five seats, and they all shared the same campaign address of their joint campaign treasurer, “the $1 million home of a county GOP precinct chair, C. Donald Stanger.”

“And they were all recruited by Immanuel Jarvis,” Busa explained. “It became very clear that they were working in concert to pull a fast one on Durham County and take control of the school board.”

Busa said what’s happening in Durham is part of a nationwide attempt by “Republican fascists” to take over school boards.

In the March report, Busa warned that the GOP’s BBBS slate relied on a state law that mandates county school board members “shall be elected on a nonpartisan basis”— that is, he wrote, “without limiting candidates to a single nominee from each party, and without listing candidates’ party affiliations on the ballot, and that school board elections shall be held during the state’s primary election rather than the November general election.”

Busa also noted the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has been “selectively chipping away at this non-partisan status for partisan advantage” by “passing special ‘local laws’ that make selected Republican-heavy counties’ school board elections partisan while leaving Democrat-heavy counties’ elections non-partisan, with the effect of promoting Republican control in GOP-heavy counties while enabling potential stealth-Republican inroads into Democratic counties.”

“Durham thus remains a ‘non-partisan’ school board, with its election on primary day … and its five Republican candidates, campaigning together under the brand name of the Better Board, Better Schools (BBBS) slate, are taking every advantage of this cloaking device,” Busa wrote.

MacLean, the Duke historian, says that “the potential for misinformation and confusion in our current local system points to the need for a consistent standard across the state.”

MacLean adds that “either school board races should all include the party affiliation of the candidates, or none should.”

“Why? Because Republicans are getting a disproportionate advantage from the current spotty practice: benefitting in Republican-dominated counties that include affiliation, while being able to fly under the radar in majority-Democratic counties which don’t. And that’s not fair.”

Shortly before early voting began, the INDY asked MacLean what would be the likely outcomes policy-wise if even one of the BBS candidates won a school board seat. 

“They are running as a slate, so chances are if one wins, others will too,” MacLean replied. “What can [we] expect? Serious damage to our schools: more privatization, cuts in essential spending, and less accountability overall. And in the classroom, snake oil instead of empirically sound, rigorous teaching in science and social studies. How can a child learn sound science from proponents of climate science? Or expect honest teaching about the role of race and gender from members of a party that is actively banning books and criminalizing truthful teaching of our history?”

UPDATE: The INDY incorrectly stated that Myca Jeter earned the endorsement of the Friends Of Durham. We regret the error.

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