McFeely: Local socialists get their first victory with Moorhead School Board
The race for one seat on the Moorhead School Board did not draw much attention, either in the local media or from voters. Only 1,558 school district residents went to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7, to cast a ballot for one of 13 candidates.
According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, there are 24,887 eligible voters in Moorhead, meaning just 6.2 percent of them voted in the election.
Something interesting happened, though, even with the apparent disinterest from citizens.
The voters elected a socialist.
The rightly proud winner of the lone open seat on Moorhead's school board was Kara Gloe, a member of the local chapter of Democratic Socialists who enlisted the help of other members to outwork and campaign better than the rest of the ballot.
The results are there to see. Gloe received 583 votes, or 37 percent. That's a huge number in a 13-way race, outpacing second-place finisher Keith Vogt's 366 votes.
Gloe's candidacy was endorsed by the Red River Valley Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and she made no bones about being a member of DSA. It's the first political victory for a small group of local activists who organized in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, when they believed their guy Bernie Sanders got cheated by the Democratic Party in favor of Hillary Clinton.
"My campaign has been door knocking since the middle of August. We have been working really hard for a really long time," Gloe said. "But certainly other members of DSA were part of that group of door knockers. Absolutely. We had a lot of door knockers who were not DSA who supported the ideas I ran on, but certainly they helped."
A couple of important distinctions need to be made.
The school board is nonpartisan, so candidates were not identified by their politics or a party. Gloe did not advertise her political beliefs, but ran mainly on the idea of making sure that no students are hungry in school. Her version of door knocking was to listen as much as it was to talk, to hear what residents' concerns were.
It's important to note, too, that the DSA is not a political party. It is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, defined as a group dedicated to promoting social welfare causes.
The local chapter has about 70-75 paying members, according to treasurer Zac Echola, and is affiliated with the 30,000-member national organization. He believes both those numbers will grow, particularly with what happened Tuesday.
Democratic Socialists won about 15 races nationwide, including one in the Virginia state legislature in which an openly socialist candidate knocked off a Republican incumbent who was the House minority whip.
"Being a socialist doesn't have the same stigma it used to," Echola said.
Well, maybe. How much impact the local DSA chapter has might be revealed in June, when Fargo holds its city election for mayor and two commission seats currently held by Dave Piepkorn and Tony Gehrig. Echola said his colleagues will be active, but haven't decided exactly what role they'll play.
The DSA might run candidates, it might endorse candidates, or it might actively oppose them.
"That will have to be decided, but I can say we won't support Piepkorn and Gehrig," Echola said. "And we might try to pull the liberal candidates farther to the left."
The DSA has a history with Piepkorn. Some of its members were involved with the attempted recall of the commissioner last spring, based on his stance questioning refugee resettlement in Fargo. The recall committee ended the effort when it wasn't sure it had gathered enough eligible signatures to force an election.
But Echola said the knowledge petitioners gained during the recall campaign was invaluable and can be used in June to help defeat Piepkorn, whether he runs for commissioner or mayor.
In the meantime, the DSA will celebrate Gloe's victory. She has big ideas. She spoke this week of possible collaboration between Moorhead schools and Clay County Social Services to make sure student needs are being met, for example. She asked whether social services could have an office in the schools.
"We shouldn't expect schools to solve really complex societal issues that kids bring to school with them and affect their ability to learn," she said. "It's unrealistic to expect that when kids walk into school that all the stuff that happens outside school is just going to melt away. Schools need to be part of the solution, but they can't do it by themselves."
Even for a socialist, that doesn't seem so radical. Does it?