In the Panhandle, a trustee’s race plays out under a national spotlight

Jake Dawson, left, and David J. Reilly

David J. Reilly has been the subject of a scathing profile in the national online news site the Daily Beast, which labeled the candidate an “anti-Semitic troll.”

He is also touting an endorsement from syndicated conservative columnist Michelle Malkin.

Reilly is running not for federal office, but for a nonpartisan school board seat in his new hometown of Post Falls. In a year when school trustee races are drawing increased local and statewide scrutiny, Reilly’s campaign has drawn national attention — and not in a good way.

The controversy centers on Reilly’s far-right ties and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Reilly covered the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., while he was working for a family-owned radio station in Pennsylvania. In an interview with the Coeur d’Alene Press, Reilly said he was forced to resign over his coverage.

“I was libeled viciously, slandered and defamed by radical activists,” Reilly told Madison Hardy of the Press. “I was threatened, and the business was threatened with bomb threats. I had to tender my resignation in a bulletproof vest because I did an interview with someone.”

Reilly did not make himself available to Idaho Education News for an interview, and did not respond to written questions submitted via email.

What Reilly says on Twitter

Angry White Men, a blog tracking white separatist activity, archived and linked to several anti-Semitic tweets from Reilly. In one, from January 2020, Reilly said Iran should not have attacked the United States, and instead “should have bombed Israel.”

In another tweet, later that month, Reilly cited a poll that indicated 61 percent of Americans agree with at least one anti-Semitic stereotype. “Good news!” Reilly wrote. “Let’s get those numbers up!”

In other tweets, also in early 2020, Reilly called women’s suffrage “a mistake,” and said “women should not be allowed on social media,” Kelly Weill of the Daily Beast reported.

Reilly evidently scrubbed his @realDaveReilly Twitter account in late August, as his campaign began.

What remains now is largely a steady stream of election-related tweets, voicing opposition to critical race theory and social-emotional learning and school pandemic protocols, which he likened to “child abuse.”

Also in the mix are some appeals to social conservatives. In one, Reilly retweets a photo of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband and their adopted infants. Writes Reilly, “Child trafficking.”

Reilly also makes clear his opinions about the media. “The Media is Satanic,” he writes at one point. “Turn it off.”

Pinned on the top of Reilly’s Twitter page is a video from a campaign speech, addressing his controversial candidacy. Reilly suggests that he has been targeted by a broad, and largely unnamed, group of enemies.

“Some of you might be aware that I am being attacked personally by international left-wing media outlets and Democrat institutions like the ADL,” said Reilly, in an apparent reference to the Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based group that tracks incidents of anti-Semitism. “This isn’t just because we’re going to take back our schools for our kids. This is because we are going to inspire the rest of the country to do the exact same thing.”

What Reilly says in questionnaires

In contrast to some of his tweets, Reilly’s positions on education topics almost seem tame. Or, perhaps more accurately, in line with many right-leaning candidates running in trustee races across Idaho next week.

  • “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs seek to substitute parents with teachers and school counselors to provide for the student’s ‘emotional needs,” Reilly said in response to an Idaho Freedom Foundation questionnaire. “SEL undermines traditional Christian morality in favor of ‘group norms’ and is a form of state-sponsored secular (and relative) morality.”
  • “My priority as School Board Trustee is to make sure that educational control is restored to parents as opposed to book publishers and corrupt unions like the (American Federation of Teachers), that children aren’t scandalized by inappropriate curricula, and that they aren’t subjected to systemic educational abuse or ‘guilt tripped’ on account of their ethnic background,” Reilly told the Coeur d’Alene Press.
  • In a Kootenai County Republican Central Committee questionnaire, Reilly says he and he wife “have had long discussions about how we plan on educating our daughter, and the one thing that was absolutely out of the question was the idea of sending her to a public school.” But he then later says he’d “like to help the Post Falls School District become an educational institution that I’d be proud to send my own daughter to.”

The race at a glance

Reilly’s opponent, Jake Dawson, touts himself as a third-generation Post Falls resident and a fiscally conservative Republican.

On several hot-button issues — critical race theory and school mask mandates — Dawson and Reilly are aligned in their opposition.

“Here is what I am in favor of. A school district that focuses on students growing to their full potential in reading, writing, arithmetic, science and history regardless of their learning style,” Dawson says on his campaign Facebook page.

Dawson has secured endorsements from two local groups — Citizens for Post Falls Schools and Citizens to Elect Qualified Experienced Candidates. The Post Falls Education Association also supports Dawson.

The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee has endorsed Reilly in Tuesday’s nonpartisan race.

Reilly leads in the money race. He has raised $3,035, including donations from at least two GOP central committee members: chairman Brent Regan, who is also the Freedom Foundation’s board chair; and Theodore Pettibone.

Dawson has raised $1,624.

More on the Post Falls race, from the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

More reading: This year’s school board races reflect their turbulent time.

 

 

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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