Just over a week after a slate of four self-described conservative candidates announced a joint campaign for Anchorage School Board seats, three of the candidates decided to run separate campaigns and one dropped out entirely.
In an announcement largely targeted to a conservative audience, the slate said it would run as a group on Jan. 22. After the announcement, Judy Eledge, candidate for Seat B, quickly drew public scrutiny for social media posts on her personal Facebook page.
Screenshots of the posts, including one that denounces mask-wearing and extols corporal punishment as a parenting tool, began circulating on Twitter and Facebook. Campaign spokeswoman Bee Hanson claimed that several of the screenshots had been altered and that others were taken out of context. Hanson and Eledge did not provide further explanation on how the posts were taken out of context and did not specify which screenshots had been altered and how.
Eledge is a retired longtime Alaska educator and conservative stalwart who supported Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign and has been the president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club.
Eledge did not respond to interview requests and instead provided a statement, emailed to the Daily News by Hanson.
“I am uninterested in talking about my Facebook posts which are often taken out of context and in some cases have been rewritten to defame me,” Eledge said in the emailed statement. “What I am interested in is being a voice for our children and ensuring their educational needs are met within the school district. That is what I have spent the last 40 years in education talking about and it remains the same today.”
The Dunleavy administration in 2019 contracted Eledge to work with the state on education, according to a post on The Alaska Landmine.
Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development currently holds a contract with Eledge, through her of business Education Solutions Simplified, to provide “State Literacy Advisory Council Coordinator services” through Dec. 31 of this year for an amount not to exceed $100,000, Erin Hardin, special assistant with the department, said in an email.
Last year, she worked on a state reading plan for kindergarten through third grade, according to the biography on her campaign website. It also says she retired as a principal in 2003.
She was an Alaska delegate in the 2016 Republican National Convention and in the 2020 national election, she cast a vote as a Republican Alaska elector in the Electoral College.
Others running on the slate included Sami Graham, a former Anchorage teacher and principal, campaigning for Seat E. She split from the slate over the weekend, and on Tuesday decided to stay in the race as a solo campaign.
On Monday, Pierce Blewett, a football coach at Bartlett High School, withdrew from the race for Seat G. Blewett said it was a family decision and that he will consider running in the future.
The rest of the slate then decided to run separately, according Hanson, communications director for candidates Eledge, Kim Paulson and Graham. Kim Paulson is now running separately for Seat F.
“We met and decided that we are going to be the conservative voice for the school board but they’re each running their own individual campaign,” Hanson said.
Running as a slate is a unique concept in municipal elections and Alaska state statute prohibits campaigns from contributing to other campaigns’ funds. Each candidate must fundraise and spend separately, and there are strict rules governing equal spending and reimbursements for shared campaign events and expenditures, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The candidates will still be united in some of their efforts, Hanson said. Central to each candidate’s campaign is that kids should be physically in school. Anchorage schools were closed to in-person learning starting last spring due to the pandemic, but recently began phasing students back into classrooms.
“The kids just deserve better,” Graham said. Graham, now retired, worked as a teacher and counselor in the district and as a principal at Trailside Elementary School.
Graham said she is deeply worried for children who have been out of classrooms for nearly a year, many of whom may have experienced abuse during that time or fallen drastically behind in learning.
Graham on Tuesday in an emailed statement said that she with her family decided to part ways with the group.
“We see the local battle we are in for a more balanced board and we think my message will be clearly delivered if I part ways from the slate and focus on running a solo campaign,” Graham wrote.
The slate originally announced its candidacy as a bid to build a conservative majority on the Anchorage School Board. Though school board seats are technically nonpartisan, political ideologies sometimes underpin approaches to school policy.
“Our goal is to win these 4 seats and join David Donley to form a majority! It is not going to be easy. We are up against people who don’t seem to want all kids back in school, support indoctrination of our children, and have little concern about Alaska students being dead last in reading and who want to continue to spend, spend, spend!” the group said in its announcement, emailed to conservative media and groups.
Donley, who currently holds Seat C on the board, is a former Republican Alaska state legislator.
Soon after the slate’s announcement, the fracas over Eledge’s social media posts unfolded online as screenshots from her Facebook page became widely shared on social media by individuals and a liberal blog. Several readers emailed the Daily News about the screenshots, which included one of a photo posted on Sept. 23 depicting Eledge and her husband on a plane with their masks pulled down.
Another screenshot of a Sept. 23 post criticized mask-wearing and said “our kids would have and still would get good Tennessee ass whoppings if they acted like whimps!”
Other screenshots of posts that were widely shared included ones that commented on race and LGBTQ issues. One was a video on Facebook of Tim Keller, an American theologian, titled, “If you have white skin, the bible says you’re involved in injustice.” In the screenshot that was shared, Eledge’s post about the video stated, “How sad people of color seem to have no self esteem! If so why all the focus on color?”
Both Hanson and Graham called the screenshots being shared a “smear campaign.”
One photo was altered and sent to a teacher, who then sent it out, Hanson said.
Eledge has since taken down her Facebook page. Hanson said that the rest of the group has taken down each of their Facebook pages, too.
“Judy is a bold voice. She’s passionate about being there for the teachers and the kids,” Hanson said. “And so of course they attacked her first. And this just drives her passion to want to be able to make a difference.”