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This year's school board races are largely seeing an increase in candidates, competition and campaign funds. Political experts believe this is due to the highly divisive topics many schools are dealing with.
And specifically, how to address the COVID-19 pandemic and conversations around critical race theory.
"I think it's just activated a lot of emotion," said Drake University Associate Political Science Professor Matthew Record. "Emotion gets translated into money."
"It definitely shows that there's a heightened interest in races if people are in fact donating," said Iowa State University Director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics Karen Kedrowski.
These experts believe the enhanced engagement is also coming with an influx of campaign contributions from political action committees.
"Political action committees have been formed and they have been raising money and spending money on behalf of their endorsed or preferred candidates," Kedrowski said.
When looking at the 2021 Des Moines Public Schools races, there is a total of seven candidates running for various positions. In total, they have raised a combined $55,560.
In 2019, the four candidates running raised just $15,591.
This year, Jackie Norris, the former Obama administration official, raised more than $28,000. In that same race, Maria Alonzo-Diaz raised $6,434, while Lloyd Elam raised $3,757.
It's not just Des Moines seeing an uptick in campaign funds this year. In Ankeny, three candidates—Lori Bullock, Lori Lovstad, and Sarah Barthole—raised more than $10,000 in campaign funds.
"It says some things about the health of our democracy," Kedrowski told Local 5. "One is that I think it will stimulate voter turnout. The higher the voter turnout, the more engaged the citizenry is, and that is on the whole a good thing. Secondly, it means that the races are contested, and having contested races is also good for our democracy. It helps invigorate the system. It brings in new ideas, it prompts a very vigorous public discussion about important issues.
"It also reinforces accountability to the voters, if people know that they could face opposition for their positions."
While experts think heightened competition will drive more people to the polls, they believe it could also deter future candidates from entering the arena.
"If this level of fundraising and that level of connection, social capital, prestige and notoriety become a requirement that can become kind of a bad thing for democracy in terms of shutting out everyday people in new perspectives," Record said. "More money in the system definitely indicates more engagement. But most people only have their vote to engage with the political system, a lot of people don't have spare money be throwing at the system."
"So the the donation class, even if they're relatively small donations, is almost always pretty different than the electorate at large."