Cherokee voters rebuff outside influence on their school district

Two challengers supported by national PAC lose; two others trail but make runoff

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Local school board races usually don’t earn the attention or funding of national political action committees. Four Cherokee school board candidates did with lackluster results Tuesday.

Branding themselves 4CanDoMore and endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC, the candidates threw some serious charges at the district during the campaign. They contended Cherokee schools peddled pornography in their media centers and nurtured Marxists in their history classes.

That proved a tough sell to Cherokee voters with two of the four losing by wide margins to incumbents, and the other two trailing in contests that will go to runoffs. While the vote tallies on the Georgia Secretary of State website are based on 100% of precincts reporting, results are considered unofficial until certified.

In the end, Cherokee voters seemed to trust what they saw with their own eyes — a strong school system, good teachers and a conservative school board that never imposed mask mandates and kept school buildings open during the pandemic.

In District 3, incumbent John Harmon rolled over 4CanDoMore candidate Cam Waters in the GOP primary. Harmon will face Democrat Katie McRee in November.

In District 4, incumbent Rick Steiner walloped 4CanDoMore candidate Chris Gregory. Steiner faces no Democratic opposition.

The two remaining GOP primary races will go to runoffs because no candidate garnered more than half of the votes. The two runoffs will pit former Cherokee County educators against 4CanDoMore candidates.

District 5 incumbent Clark Menard did not run. In the three-person primary, former district teacher Erin Ragsdale outpaced 4CanDoMore candidate Sean Kaufman but fell short of avoiding a runoff. The winner of the runoff will take on Democrat Sean Jackson in November.

In District 6, longtime incumbent Mike Chapman also did not seek reelection. The leader in that three-person primary was educator Susan Padgett Harrison. Harrison landed a bit under half, so she will be in a runoff against 4CanDoMore’s Ray Lynch. The winner of the District 6 runoff faces no Democratic opposition.

The 1776 Project PAC supports candidates who urge a more patriotic retelling of U.S. history and oppose critical race theory, a sophisticated academic framework that examines the reach of institutional racism. No evidence exists that CRT is taught in Cherokee County.

After a school board vote a year ago, Cherokee became one of the first systems in Georgia to prohibit any hint of CRT in its classrooms. The 4CanDoMore candidates also criticized social and emotional learning as a way to wrest control of children away from parents.

Given the apparent voter skepticism of such claims, it will be interesting to watch if the two 4CanDoMore candidates moderate their rhetoric and their criticisms of the district in the weeks leading to the June 21 runoff.