Opinion: Will Cherokee voters validate or reject political manipulation?

The District 5 and District 6 Republican school board runoffs in Cherokee County today will tell whether voters bought into a campaign to portray Cherokee, one of the most conservative counties in Georgia, as a district careening into a liberal abyss. (AJC file photo)

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The District 5 and District 6 Republican school board runoffs in Cherokee County today will tell whether voters bought into a campaign to portray Cherokee, one of the most conservative counties in Georgia, as a district careening into a liberal abyss. (AJC file photo)

Voters in Cherokee County will decide today whether they want to inject their school board with a heaping dose of political theatrics.

The District 5 and District 6 Republican school board runoffs will tell whether voters bought into a campaign to portray Cherokee, one of the most conservative counties in Georgia, as a district careening into a liberal abyss.

A quartet of candidates under the banner of “4CanDoMore” pledged to rid the district of critical race theory, a sophisticated academic framework around the role of race and racism in American law and institutions that is not taught in Cherokee or any other Georgia K-12 classrooms.

ExploreMetro Atlanta runoffs to decide some school board races, narrow others

Two of the four 4CanDoMore candidates lost in the May primary; the others are in runoffs. Sean Kaufman from the 4CanDoMore ticket now faces Erin Ragsdale in District 5, while his compatriot Ray Lynch faces Susan Padgett-Harrison in District 6. (The District 5 runoff winner will go up against Democrat Sean Jackson in November, while there is no Democratic opposition in District 6.)

Their contention that critical race theory is afoot in Cherokee and their recasting of social and emotional learning as psychological manipulation comes out of a playbook being used in school board elections across the country by practitioners of wedge politics. The targeted audience has been white parents who prefer any unsightly blemish in American history minimized.

In essence, they want a sanitized and curtailed curriculum taught to the soundtrack of “God Bless America” by teachers with their hands over their hearts and the mouths of anyone seeking a true telling of U.S. history.

That this campaign found a willing audience in a county where Donald Trump won nearly 69% of the 2020 vote shows the power of misinformation, innuendo and exaggeration when expertly delivered and packaged. Any small sign of tolerance in Cherokee schools was treated as a sign the woke mob was breaching the walls — even a Woodstock High School diversity week flyer about wearing T-shirts in assorted colors to raise awareness about disabilities, gender, racial and LGBTQ rights.

The election today in Cherokee will either validate the power of political manipulation or repudiate it. Even more importantly, the election will speak to whether Republican voters are willing to sacrifice their district to a political agenda that overlooks the significant improvements in their schools and treats teachers as dangerous influences to be contained and corralled.