Voters in Des Moines, Iowa, turned out in record numbers in September to defeat an openly gay school board veteran and elect two candidates backed by local and statewide conservative groups.
The stage for the election, which attracted national attention, was set last winter when Jonathan Wilson, a 12-year board member, publicly declared his homosexuality during a bitter debate over a proposed curriculum on sexual orientation. Wilson finished fourth out of eight candidates vying for two seats on the seven-member board. “He was elected four times before,’' said Phil Roeder, a consultant to Wilson’s campaign. “All that changed was that the public now knows he’s gay.’'
The winners were Jane Hein, a former teacher and local PTA leader, with 15,062 votes, and Harold “Sandy’’ Sandahl, an engineer who had never before voted in a school board election. He received 13,368 votes. Concerned Parents of Des Moines, a group opposed to the proposed curriculum and Wilson’s re-election, had backed both.
Wilson received 9,770 votes, behind third-place finisher Mark Schuling, who got 10,903 votes. The Des Moines affiliate of the National Education Association endorsed both Wilson and Schuling. Wilson also had the support of gay and lesbian activists nationwide who helped the candidate raise nearly $50,000 for his campaign, far more than any other candidate.
While the city schools superintendent eventually killed
the curriculum proposal, the issue remained a catalyst for conservative groups to rally against Wilson. “I think people are saying they aren’t interested in social engineering,’' Hein told The Des Moines Register after the election.
The gay controversy brought out 29,157 voters, 26 percent of those registered in the city. A typical turnout for a school board race, local officials said, is closer to 7,000.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1995 edition of Teacher as Gay Official Ousted