John Whelan retired after a 40-year career in financial security planning and insurance. He joined AMAC working in a political communications role and now with AMAC Action as a State Advocacy Representative in the Midwest. His concern about local education motivated him to take the plunge and run for the school board in his community in 2022. He recently took the time to relate his experience running for local office.
AMAC: You ran for your local school board. Tell us about your community and what motivated you to run.
JW: The community is my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, which is the original home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic. I was born here in the mid-fifties, and I was very concerned about what’s happened to this community. It’s become very liberal, and I knew that it would be difficult to have political success here, but I was highly motivated to give it a try.
It’s a seven-member school board and there were four seats up for election. I recruited three other people to run with me [and] they all happened to be women. Everything that you hear nationally that’s going on in terms of wokeness critical race theory, gender and race obsession, falling academics, horrible test scores, all of that was going on and is going on in the Rochester public schools.
AMAC: So, you ran as a slate. Tell me what was unique about your campaign.
JW: Well, I thought it was kind of unique that we had three women and a guy. We called ourselves “4 Your Children”. We are for your children and there’s four of us. I really think what was unique about it compared to many school board races that I’ve seen over the years, is that this was a no holds barred approach. We were not bashful about anything. We went right at the heart of the issues. We did comparison grids, saying this is what the current school board is doing [and] this is what we would do. The current school board is allowing disruptive and violent behavior of the students. We would restore discipline in the classes. We would have uniformed officers in the middle schools and high schools, and they [the schools] are sexualizing our children. We would preserve childhood innocence.
AMAC: How did the opposition react to your campaign?
JW: The fear mongering. They called us extreme. They call this medieval – they want to take us back to the 1800s. These types of things were all over social media. They accused us of bringing politics into the schools. What we were trying to do was get politics out of the schools because left wing politics [were] all over the schools, and we did the best we could in pushing back against that. But the media definitely was completely against us. The local newspaper took every opportunity to diminish us. The local broadcast media was not of any help to us. There was always some kind of snarky thing kind of lurking in the background.
AMAC: What was the outcome and what lessons did you learn?
JW: Well, the outcome was incredibly disappointing. Three of us garnered 38% of the vote, so we lost to our respective opponents 62% to 38%. We were surprised. We felt that we could win. And really the reason we felt that way is because of our literally thousands of interactions with complete strangers, and I mean complete strangers.
These were people that we would meet in social settings, for example. Of course, this is Minnesota. You have a very short summer, pretty much a lousy spring. A little bit of good weather in the fall. And so, there’s a lot of festivals that are packed into a constricted period of time. And that worked great into our campaign time because our campaign basically went in June through the first week in November [with] all kinds of opportunities to meet people. Our interactions with complete strangers were over 90% positive.
But we did learn this. We learned the signs don’t vote. We “out-signed” our opponents at least 20 to 1. We had signage at very busy intersections where thousands of cars would come by every day. Several of these signs were four feet by eight feet.
The people that supported us were rabid in their support. They walked neighborhoods. They did social media. They sent text messages to people they helped with get out the vote efforts. And they gave us money. We had great support. And I think because we had good interactions with strangers, we were surprised at the magnitude of how we got beat. But if I could say one more thing, in 2018, two conservatives ran [for] the four seats that were up, and we did ten points better than those conservatives did in 2018.
AMAC: Do you intend to run for office again based on this experience? And if so, what would you do differently?
JW: I made a pledge that if I was elected, I was going to serve one four-year term. Well, I was not elected. There is [another] election in two years. So, I am considering running again knowing that we cannot get a conservative majority on the board. I would only run if no other conservatives stepped forward. I would run as a watchdog who will keep his eye on these other board members.
AMAC: Would you recommend a run for office on any level, local, state, federal, to other AMAC members?
JW: Absolutely. And I have no regrets for making this run. I am absolutely at peace that I left everything on the field. What I would recommend is hopefully running in a better demographic district, but you can’t necessarily control that. I would say if you hear God telling you do this and you feel confident within your own self, within your spirit, that you should move forward, then I say go for it. We need more people engaged in this process.