Merrimack, NH -- After two years of turmoil, the voters of Merrimack, NH have regained control of their School Board. Pro-education candidate, Rosemarie Rung, won election by a stunning landslide in the largest turnout in town history.
By winning this seat, Rung has completed the process started last year when Ken Coleman and Brenda Grady were elected by the largest margins in town history. The controlling majority (Chris Ager, Shelly Uscinski, and Ginny Twardosky) that came to power in 1994 has lost, and no longer can force the agenda of the Radical Religious Right on Merrimack.
"This election has brought back local control of the School Board," observed Rung. "The people of Merrimack have spoken loudly and strongly. We have rejected the extremist agendas of outside activists -- and their followers on the Board. At last, we can return to the real business of operating our schools wisely and efficiently."
TWO YEARS OF POLITICAL TURMOIL
Immediately after seizing control, the majority started enacting the national agenda of the Radical Religious Right. The willingness of the controlling majority of the School Board to enact these outside agendas is shocking. First came school prayer disguised as a moment of silence.
Next came creationism in the science courses, with debate so heated that it drew international media attention. Removing guidance and psychological counseling services, a favorite issue of the Church of Scientology, surfaced just before the 1995 election.
After failing to gain new seats, the majority enacted the infamous anti-gay Policy 6540. For the past two years, Merrimack has suffered through bitterly divisive debate over non-educational "hot-button" issues such as these. At the same time, the School Board has neglected the basic issues of education.
LOCAL CONNECTIONS TO NATIONAL ACTIVISTS
The range of individuals and organizations using Merrimack to advance their agendas is truly astonishing. After the election, Uscinski joined the Christian Coalition and now travels around the country giving training seminars on how to win elections by stealth.
Top executives of the Christian Coalition (Paul Nagy, George Fellendorf, and Ray White) appear at Merrimack School Board meetings. Uscinski also serves as a Commissioner for the Commission on Human Rights, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Scientology. Recently, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, of the Unification Church, presented her with an award from his newest front organization, the Washington Times Foundation.
Ager, who did not dare to run for re-election, has acknowledged his contacts with Rev. Lou Sheldon of the California-based Traditional Values Coalition. Sheldon has boasted of his frequent trips to Merrimack to speak at local churches to stir up local support for the anti-gay policy.
CLEAR CHOICE IN 1996
With only one seat open in 1996, the voters had a clear opportunity to defeat or support the controlling majority. Rosemarie Rung, the pro-education candidate, offered a three-point platform emphasizing Strategic Planning, Curriculum Improvement, and Building Partnerships with Business and Industry.
She also rejected the past two years of dabbling with "hot-button" issues, including Policy 6540. As the campaign gathered momentum, the controlling majority began to use the anti-gay Policy 6540 as their wedge issue. Bert Tenhave, campaign manager for the losing candidate, Ginny Cadarette, framed their approach when he said, "I see the next election as the Christian Coalition vs. the gay and lesbian agenda," (Nashua Telegraph, Feb. 7, 1996).
Cadarette claimed to have no set agenda, and no particular ideas about running the schools. Although she denied any connections with the Christian Coalition, she supported all of their fundamental issues, pledging to continue the work of the current majority if elected. Specifically, she supported Policy 6540, and would not change or repeal it.
VICTORY FOR THE PEOPLE
After the resounding people's victory tonight, Rung remarked, "This election proves that the citizens of Merrimack have the moral courage to reject the politics of fear and divisiveness. What the Radical Religious Right failed to realize when it moved into Merrimack advocating its agenda, from creationism to Policy 6540, is that we truly believe in freedom of speech, and equal protection of the laws. We respect the rights of all of our citizens. We have strong family values, and we do not exclude others solely because of political or religious differences. That robust moral fiber in our town is what Paul Nagy and Ray White of the Christian Coalition, and Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition didn't anticipate when they came to Merrimack," concluded Rung.
RESISTING THE RADICAL RELIGIOUS RIGHT
Merrimack clearly has been a textbook example of how the Radical Religious Right targets a town for a takeover. People of other communities can learn from the events in Merrimack.
The Christian Coalition has made infiltrating the school boards of America a major political goal (more important than winning the presidency according to Ralph Reed). Lou Sheldon bragged in Time and the Telegraph about his involvement in many other communities around the country. Whether the current wedge issue is creationism, school prayer, homophobia, phonics, or Goals 2000, the players are always the same.
"Make no mistake," advises Rung. "The activists of the far right are not coming to your town. They are already working behind the scenes to subvert your school board," Rung warns. "In Merrimack, it took just two elections for them to gain control by stealth tactics. We then suffered through two years of furious attacks on our schools, and complete inattention to education. Never allow the merchants of fear and hate to infiltrate your town and use your community for their personal political and financial gains. Stand up to them, and drive them out," Rung urged. "We did it in Merrimack, just as the people of San Diego, CA; Vista, CA; Helena, MT; and many other towns did. You can defeat them in your town, too. Our schools, and your children's futures, depend on your involvement."
Final vote tallies as called in from the polls at 8:50 pm: Rosemarie Rung, 4,132; Ginny Cadarette 1,953.