PROVIDENCE — A handful of candidates who pledged to oppose efforts to teach “divisive race-based or gender-based theory” in public schools got a toe-hold Tuesday on town councils and school committees, mostly in Rhode Island’s conservative southwest corner. But many were largely rejected by voters.
The candidates who won their races were among more than two dozen for local and state office who signed a pledge with Parents United RI, part of a national organization that says it stands for “parental rights” against “extreme race and sex-based theories” and “government-sanctioned student indoctrination.” The Rhode Island group says it is a “stark contrast to the progressive-socialists” with the Rhode Island Political Cooperative and the Working Families Party.
The Parents United RI candidates include three state legislators, including one who marched on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, candidates for higher office, and newcomers at the local level with far-right affiliations.
The Parents United RI group saw its biggest gains in South County, where candidates landed seats on school committees and town councils. Two of the three state legislators held onto their seats easily; the third, who lost by just four votes, is expected to request a recount.
Some of the local candidates were part of a lawsuit against Governor Daniel McKee over mask mandates. Some have fomented at school committee meetings over mask mandates, books that they found objectionable, and efforts by schools to be inclusive. They’ve argued against anti-racism task forces and critical race theory, an academic framework that’s often part of the curriculum at law schools, and not taught in K-12 public schools.
Now, several of those candidates have seats at the table.
Hopkinton Republican Senator Hopkinton Elaine J. Morgan, in District 34, won re-election with 55 percent of the vote. Morgan had sponsored a bill barring trans youth from participating in sports that don’t match their assigned gender at birth.
West Warwick Republican Rep. Patricia L. Morgan won with 59.1 percent of the vote. She has been an ardent opponent of critical race theory — making national news when she tweeted about losing “a Black friend” — and had sponsored a bill to forbid schools from using the 1619 Project curriculum or any other “that pursues a predominantly ideological and/or activist outcome.” She was the sole sponsor of the Rhode Island Parents Bill of Rights legislation in the last legislative session, where it died.
In Richmond, Republicans Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan both landed seats on the Town Council. Republican Kathryn E. Colasante got a seat on the Chariho School Committee. Both Colasantes have been outspoken at school committee meetings against critical race theory.
Parents United RI had other successes in Hopkinton.
A woman who was rejected from the Hopkinton Charter Commission for calling herself “Polly Purebred, Domestic Terrorist” on her Twitter account, won a seat on the Chariho School Committee. Republican Polly A. Hopkins gained a following in right-wing circles for her opposition to the anti-racism task force in the school district.
Republican Michael James Geary got the most votes for the Hopkinton Town Council.
In Westerly, one of the plaintiffs who sued McKee over mask mandates won a seat on the School Committee. Lori Wycall, a Republican, had also supported Rep. Morgan’s anti-CRT bill in 2021, writing that allowing such teaching would “promote division, a radical leftist agenda, indoctrinate our children by polluting their minds and making them ashamed of being white and/or conservative thinking.”
And in Warwick, Parents United candidate Michelle Kirby Chapman won her first seat on the School Committee, in District 3.
Voters in other parts of the state rejected the Parents United candidates, and they found no traction statewide in statewide races.
They included Charles Calenda, a Republican for attorney general, with 38.4 percent of the vote against incumbent Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, and Allen Waters, the Republican, who received just 35.8 percent of the vote against US Congressman David N. Cicilline.
Incumbent Republican state Rep. Justin K. Price, who admitted marching on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, lost by four votes to Democratic challenger Megan L. Cotter, who is supported by the Working Families Party. The race is expected to go to a recount.
Voters also overwhelmingly chose the Democratic candidates over the Republican candidates aligned with Parents United in races for House seats in Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick, Providence, and South Kingstown.
Other Parents United candidates also lost their races for school committees in Charlestown, East Providence, Exeter, Pawtucket, South Kingstown, Westerly, and Woonsocket.
A photo caption in an earlier version of this story misstated the location. The polling place is located at the Pastore Youth Center in Cranston, R.I.