In one of the most closely watched school board races in the Twin Cities, two of three candidates endorsed by a conservative grassroots organization, the Minnesota Parents Alliance, have captured seats on the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.
Linda Hoekman and Zach Arco defeated their Education Minnesota-endorsed opponents in their respective head-to-head races on Tuesday night, as election results from several school board and municipal elections across the state came pouring in shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
Anoka-Hennepin, which has long held the distinction of the district with the largest student enrollment in Minnesota, encompasses boundaries of more than 248,000 residents. Its school board approved a $610 million budget in June. While most school districts in Minnesota hold elections for at-large seats, Anoka-Hennepin’s seven seats are comprised by geographical district.
Hoekman unseated incumbent school board member Erin Heers-McArdle in the District 1 race by earning 55 percent of the vote. That comes just four years after Heers-McArdle, who was heavily backed by the Anoka-Hennepin chapter of Education Minnesota and the DFL-allied School Board Integrity Project, had won her first term on the board in 2019 by a double-digit point margin. Heers-McArdle had many supporters from among DFL elected officials. She appeared at a fundraiser in September that featured many Democrat activists who backed her campaign, including State Auditor Julie Blaha, a former Anoka-Hennepin teachers union president.
In the District 2 Anoka-Hennepin race, engineer and parent Zach Arco of Blaine defeated his Education Minnesota-backed opponent Susan Witt by just 13 votes. Arco will replace outgoing board member Marci Anderson, who chose not to seek re-election. Witt is a retired teacher from Spring Lake Park and lost two consecutive elections in 2014 and 2016 as a DFL-endorsed candidate in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Her 2016 loss to Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, was by just 168 votes.
In the race for the Anoka-Hennepin District 5 seat, Education Minnesota-endorsed candidate Michelle Langenfeld captured more than 54 percent of the vote to win an open seat on the board over Minnesota Parents Alliance-endorsed candidate Scott Simmons.
In total Anoka-Hennepin School Board candidates raised more than $75,000 for their campaigns. In the District 1 race, Hoekman and Heers-McArdle each raised more than $17,000.
Minnesota Parents Alliance pickups in Hastings, South Washington County and Wayzata
Another big victory for the Minnesota Parents Alliance candidates came in the South Washington County School Board race.
While Education Minnesota was able to help two of its three endorsed candidates win seats on the seven-person District 833 School Board, MPA-endorsed Ryan Clarke also earned a seat by capturing the third-most votes in the at-large contest that featured 11 candidates. The two top vote earners were Simi Patnaik and Melinda Dols, who each earned about 16 percent of the votes cast. Clarke came in third with more than 14 percent of the vote.
One of the hardest fought races between Minnesota Parents Alliance and Education Minnesota was in Hastings District #200. In that race, the teachers union and the DFL-allied School Board Integrity Project backed a slate of four candidates who were recruited by a progressive activist group named “200 Strong.” Just one of those four candidates, Matt Bruns, won a seat on the Hastings School Board. Three candidates endorsed by the Minnesota Parents Alliance earned the other three seats up for grabs. Those candidates were Jenny Wiederholt-Pine, Phillip Biermaier and Melissa Millner.
Another big win for the MPA came in the Wayzata School District, where Valentina Eyres earned the fourth most votes out of six candidates, good enough to win a seat on the board in one of the state’s larger school districts.
Education Minnesota candidates earn clean sweep in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan
While the powerful teachers union lost seats in some of the districts it spent much of its focus on, it did help get all four of the candidates it backed elected in the south suburban District #196, which encompasses Rosemount, Apple Valley and most of Eagan.
Cory Johnson, Anna Williams, Sachin Isaacs and Jackie Magnuson were the top four vote earners in that race. All were endorsed by the teachers union and they each received about 5,000 more votes than the slate of Minnesota Parents Alliance endorsed candidates (Lori Urkiel, Melissa Field, Teressa Schlueter, Kim Bauer).
The teachers union also swept all three of the seats up for election on the Bloomington School Board. One of three MPA-endorsed candidates Ricardo Oliva came within less than two percentage points of earning a seat on the board. He was edged out by incumbent Nelly Korman, who earned her fourth term on the board, which has been reeling from controversy in recent months over the subject of how it handles books in its school libraries that some parents have challenged for their content they believe is inappropriate for children.
The Minnetonka School Board race also saw the election of a slate of four Education Minnesota-endorsed candidates: Sally Browne, Dan Olson, Michael Remucal, and Kemerie Foss.
And in a special election for one seat on the Stillwater School Board, Education Minnesota-endorsed Chris Lauer earned 61 percent of the vote to defeat his MPA-endorsed opponent Jessica Johnson.
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.