Bailey: Moms for Liberty: Cooking up shrimp ‘n grits ‘n revolution, Charleston style | Commentary

So who is Tara Wood, this new alleged power-broker on the Charleston schools scene?

She and her moms in black T-shirts had a better election than Ben Navarro, Charleston’s Good Billionaire, and all his dark money, for sure. Five candidates they endorsed won a majority on the Charleston County School Board, the first elected by single-member districts that mirror County Council.

The founder of Charleston’s 15-month-old Moms for Liberty chapter, which champions “parental rights” in the schools, is a Mount Pleasant real estate agent, a mom and stepmom, a wife and proud owner of two dogs. She is also a friend of Corey.

That would be Corey Allen, the right-wing radical who became known in Charleston two years ago for helping organize a rally that drew a swarm of Proud Boys and eventually cost Harry Griffin his City Council seat. A month later Allen, who runs the online Overton Report, would be on the steps of the US Capitol livestreaming the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“It’s crazy out here, guys. It’s crazy,” Allen (aka Corey Whittington) says to chants of “USA! USA!” from the mob all around him.

Fast forward to this May; the setting is very different. The unruly mob at the Capitol has been replaced by the polite Moms at Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant. It’s a fundraiser for Moms for Liberty, and the line for shrimp ‘n grits is long.

Everyone is having a wonderful time: There’s Tara Wood smiling next to Corey Allen and another mom and another mom. It’s all memorialized in a half-dozen photos on Allen’s Facebook page, “Exposing Friends to Extremist Content.”

“Thank you again for being there, Corey,” Wood writes on the page.

“Proud to help!” he says under another photo.

It’s not like it’s a one-off. In September, Allen approvingly publishes the Moms for Liberty list of endorsed candidates in the upcoming school board election. A week later he’s at another Moms meeting. There’s Allen and Wood smiling together again.

“We are coming for the school boards and the state house, by the way,” warns Allen. “You should be aware of it if you weren’t already.”

They are now.

Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidates flipped local school boards in Charleston, Berkeley and York counties on Nov. 8. The state’s newly elected superintendent of education, Republican Ellen Weaver, is in lockstep with the Moms in making war on critical race theory and the “ sexualization” of their kids. No matter that they are mostly chasing ghosts.

Wood started the Charleston chapter in August 2021, one of 240 launched in 42 states since the pandemic and masks lit the fire, the latest front in America’s burning culture wars. Today it has about 300 members and 1,100 followers on Facebook.

“I am so happy for the parents, grandparents and concerned citizens of Charleston County,” Wood said in an email in response to my written questions. “They spoke loud and clear with their votes on Nov. 8.”

She declined to comment on Allen.

But if the bloodletting Tuesday in Berkeley County is a preview of what is ahead in Charleston County, it’s time to buckle up.

On the very night the new school board was sworn in, the slate of candidates backed by Moms for Liberty and the local Republican Party fired the district’s superintendent and lawyer, talked about cutting property taxes, banned the teaching of critical race theory and set up a committee to remove books deemed to have inappropriate sexual content.

Thankfully, the new Charleston County board was sworn in Friday with no such bombshells. It’s far from clear, in fact, how much the Moms had to do with the results and how much it had to do with the fluky nature of this election, brought to you courtesy of the county’s legislative delegation.

The entire board was up for grabs in November after the delegation pushed through legislation to abandon countywide school board elections for single-member districts. The delegation was reacting to public pushback at the board’s plans to consolidate schools and change who gets priority seating at the top magnet programs in an effort to close the achievement gap between blacks and whites, which is a scandal in plain sight.

Suddenly, if you ever wanted to be on the school board (don’t ask me why), this was your year. In a crowded field (District 2 had six candidates), five of the nine winners received 38% or less of the vote. With no runoffs, only two won majorities. We even made The New Yorker, which called it “a clown-car school-board race.”

In our divided, angry world, this is no recipe for consensus building. Public engagement is critical; the distortions the Moms for Liberty and their extremist friend Corey Allen are selling are destructive.

The clown-car election is over — what comes next could be worse. See Berkeley County.

Steve Bailey can be reached at sjbailey1060@yahoo.com.

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