San Francisco school board recall prompts media reckoning over woke weariness: 'Progressivism gone wild'

Consultant tells Fox News Digital, 'When even San Francisco liberals have had enough wokeism, you know there's trouble in paradise'

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The landslide recall of three left-wing San Francisco school board members last week has media outlets across the country wondering about the wider political implications and how powerful a voting bloc angry parents could be in November.

Progressives Alison Collins, Gabriella Lopez and Faauuga Moliga lost their seats, with more than 70% of votes in favor of removing them last week. Mayor London Breed, D., who supported the recall, is now tasked with replacing them, and the debate now rages over whether their firings were about prolonged school closings, failed "woke" efforts to rename schools named after figures like presidents on Mount Rushmore, close ties to unpopular teachers unions, banning merit-based admissions at a high-performing high school or their general ability to do their jobs.

Parents Defending Education president and founder Nicole Neily said the results were well-earned, adding they "fiddled while Rome burned" and noting Lopez and Collins have cast blame on "White supremacists" and "billionaires" for their ouster.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks at a news conference about crime against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in San Francisco, California, Jan. 25, 2022.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks at a news conference about crime against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in San Francisco, California, Jan. 25, 2022. (REUTERS/Nathan Frandino)

"Voters in San Francisco turned out en masse to throw out a set of school board members who were more interested in imposing their will on others than on listening - and if other elected officials around the country prove to be similarly tone-deaf, then I have no doubt voters will take that into account," she told Fox News Digital. 

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The resounding success of the recall has gotten national attention. Attempts to rename schools after figures like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., drew derision, and the board also took heat from the city's Asian American community for removing score-based admittance at prestigious Lowell High School in exchange for a lottery system in order to address "pervasive systemic racism." Collins, one of the recalled board members, previously accused Asian Americans of engaging in "White supremacist thinking" with their desire to "get ahead" and referred to them with the "house n----r" racial slur.

But perhaps the most salient issue was San Francisco's lengthy school closings and what was considered a lackadaisical effort to get students back in the classroom. The recall effort began more than a year ago while public schools remained closed even as San Francisco's private schools figured out how to reopen safely, and as city officials deemed it was safe for all kids to return to in-person classes.

"What happened Tuesday was more a foreshock, a warning — as if Democrats needed any more of those — that November’s midterm elections could be very bad indeed, as parents unsettled by two years of pandemic-related upheaval vent their frustrations at the polls," Mark Z. Barabak wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Noting this was hardly in a red area of the country – San Francisco went for President Biden by more than 70 points in 2020 – he wrote, "the results are noteworthy precisely" because of their location.

"Parents of all political stripes have emerged as one of the most potent forces in campaigns and elections today, and woe to anyone seen as standing in the way of their kids’ education," he wrote.

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"In San Francisco, the latest battle among Democrats over how far left the party should move came to a resounding conclusion as voters this week fired three school board members who veered too close to the edge even in a city that is a bastion of liberal activism," the Washington Post summarized. 

Former New York City Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg warned, "Coming from America’s most liberal city, those results should translate into a 7 to 8 on the Richter scale, because the three main factors that drove the recall are not unique to the Bay Area."

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan tied the successful recall to Republican Glenn Youngkin's November win in the Virginia gubernatorial race, which centered on educational issues. Youngkin narrowly won in a state where Biden defeated Donald Trump by 10 points in 2020.

The San Francisco school board abandoned efforts in 2021 to rename 44 of the city's public schools it said honored public figures linked to racism, sexism and injustice. On the list were names like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The San Francisco school board abandoned efforts in 2021 to rename 44 of the city's public schools it said honored public figures linked to racism, sexism and injustice. On the list were names like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

"[It] marks a continuation of the parents’ rebellion that surfaced in November in Virginia’s upset gubernatorial election," she wrote. "It is in the way of things that Democratic leaders in Congress won’t feel they have an excuse to crack down hard on the progressive wing of their party until the entire party loses big in the 2022 elections. But Democratic voters on the ground aren’t waiting for permission. They are taking a stick to wokeness whether the party’s leaders do or not."

"Notoriously liberal San Francisco voters have discovered that even they have limits when it comes to progressivism gone wild … This is hardly the first time progressives have failed to keep pace with the national mood. They mistook widespread public outrage over police killings of unarmed Black people as a mandate to defund and dismantle local police forces," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board wrote.

On the other hand, the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board rejected the notion that the recall was "a broader referendum on progressive politics or mask mandates or the ills of a hyper abundance of wokeness," saying the vote was about "basic competence." Autumn Looijen, co-founder of the Recall SF School Board campaign, also said Saturday on CNN's "Smerconish" that the vote was about "incompetence."

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Left-wing CNN analyst John Avlon, in a "Reality Check" segment on CNN's struggling morning program "New Day," framed it as a victory of sorts for liberalism because it showed a progressive bastion like San Francisco didn't live down to "right-wing stereotypes." 

"There is such a thing as too extreme, and that's good news, because our Democratic cities don't actually live up to the caricatures created by conservatives," he said on CNN, before outlining the fixation on "symbolic social justice issues" that got the board members booted.

The skyline of San Francisco, California, showing the Transamerica Building framed by the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset Feb. 27, 2008. 

The skyline of San Francisco, California, showing the Transamerica Building framed by the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset Feb. 27, 2008.  (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

San Francisco-based writer Gary Kamiya said in The Atlantic that the truth lay more toward the middle, but "closer to the conservative view."

"At a minimum, the recall demonstrates that 'woke' racial politics have their limits, even in one of the wokest cities in the country," he wrote.

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The city's teachers union, closely politically aligned with the left-wing school board, took what Kamiya called a "maximalist shutdown line that enraged many parents." 

"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that a lot of San Franciscans have climbed off the woke bandwagon—or were never wholeheartedly on it. Again, voters’ evident rejection of the board’s incessant braying about racism, White privilege, and the rest is inextricably entangled with their anger over the fact that schools remained closed for so long. But school closures nationwide are associated with Democrats, so that’s hardly cause for progressive relief," he wrote.

A California-based political consultant who works on education issues told Fox News Digital that the marriage between "woke" and more moderate Democrats was looking less stable by the day with these ominous election results. 

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"Mainstream Democrats have been trying to handle the progressive insurgency by bringing radicals inside the tent and pretending they have something helpful to offer," he said. "But election results in Virginia and now San Francisco are showing what a bad idea this is. When even San Francisco liberals have had enough wokeism, you know there's trouble in paradise. [Democrats] will either figure out a way to get their woke problem under control, or voters will do it for them. I would bet on the latter."

Fox News' Hanna Panreck, Claudia Cowan and Nikolas Lanum contributed to this report.