Claiming today’s conservative Republicans aren’t anywhere near conservative enough, one activist organization has been training its own brand of passionate GOP culture warriors.
“You asked for better candidates — that’s why we created the Statesmen Academy,” says the Family Policy Foundation, a small, little-known-but-powerful group founded by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson that now promotes his version of family values through more than 150 graduates serving in 35 state capitols.
Launched in 2016, the Statesmen Academy originally claimed noble, godly goals. It said the “teachings of Jesus and Paul” could help heal the “toxic world of today’s politics” and pledged to bring “respect,” “trust” and “humility” to the process. “How can political opponents love one another, be gracious and even forgiving?”
Love and respect aren’t the top characteristics citizens see in Academy alumni.
But love and respect aren’t the top characteristics citizens see in Academy alumni, who have been the primary sponsors of divisive bans on transgender medical care and sports access in more than 20 states; restrictions on abortion procedures and medications; limits on drag shows; “election integrity” bills that restrict voter access; reduced access to online pornography; and bans on school curriculum and books dealing with American history, human sexuality and Critical Race Theory.
In two states, Academy alumni overrode vetoes of their transgender legislation by Christian Republican governors who said the bills were harmful or unnecessary.
“We give thanks to God for what he has done and continues to do to build up a remnant of Christian public servants,” says the group of its legislators, who will “transform our system of government from the inside.”
The Family Policy Foundation’s agenda reaches further than statehouses. It wants to see more GOP culture warriors on the country’s school boards, so this year it launched its School Board Academy, billed as “the nation’s first training program for pro-family school board members and candidates taught from a biblical worldview.”
The Foundation also trains members and staff of the U.S. House and Senate “on how to be pro-life champions, how to understand the transgender phenomenon and protect children from it, and much more.”
Battling for righteousness
James Dobson taught that America was founded as and had functioned as a Christian nation until the 1960s turned everything upside down. Now mostly retired, he will be survived by an influential network of activist groups designed to win “the battle for righteousness” through politics, not the church, because pastors are too “timid and mute.”
The network of nonprofits Dobson created includes:
- The Alliance Defending Freedom, the powerful $102 million conservative legal group with 2,500 allied attorneys and 14 Supreme Court victories on same-sex wedding cakes and web services, abortion, contraception, political donor privacy, tax dollars for religious schools, evangelism, and official prayers at town council meetings.
- The $25 million D.C.-based Family Research Council, which claims a network of 40,000 churches.
- And the Family Policy Foundation and its sister organization, the Family Policy Alliance work together as Focus’s public policy partner in the states.
The Foundation and Alliance are a small nonprofit with only 18 employees and income of $4.3 million a year. But they’ve had an outsized influence on American politics through their $40 million, 300-plus employee network of family policy councils in 40 states, including the Florida Family Policy Council and Texas Values, and their work in recruiting GOP candidates.
Academy training builds legislative network
During their Statesmen training, candidates and officials are taught in “foundational principles, policy expertise, and political and communications strategies for effective, Christ-centered public service.”
Candidates and officials are taught in “foundational principles, policy expertise, and political and communications strategies for effective, Christ-centered public service.”
They also hear speakers such as Coach Joe Kennedy, who won a Supreme Court school prayer case thanks to Alliance Defending Freedom; Jeff Myers of Summit Ministries, which partners with Family Research Council to create politically oriented worldview training; and Matthew Spalding of Hillsdale College.
After graduation, they’re made part of “a vibrant alumni community through which they receive ongoing training, fellowship and assistance to defend and advance pro-family policies in their states.” Alumni have access to a private Facebook page, monthly e-newsletters, policy calls, periodic events, along with “model legislation, talking points, research and polling, and media interview preparation” created by the Foundation.
As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Family Policy Alliance is supposed to promote “community welfare for charitable, educational or recreational purposes,” not partisan political activity, but it is highly involved in getting its Statesmen alumni elected and re-elected by helping them with “sophisticated data and technology to micro-target voters who share our values with messages on life, family and religious freedom to encourage voter turn-out and support for Statesmen alumni candidates.”
Making red states redder
Once in place, alumni work to move their states rightward. Family Policy Foundation doesn’t release names of its alumni, but it does highlight the work of standout leaders like State Rep. Robin Lundstrom of Arkansas, the first state to pass an anti-transgender medical bill.
Lundstrom, a Southern Baptist, calls America “our Christian nation” and says the emergence of transgender identity is “just the progression of the degeneration of our society.”
She regularly travels out of state to speak about her bill before conservative activist groups but makes a habit of misrepresenting her own bill by claiming that it “didn’t take away any health care (and) didn’t take away any counseling” while that is the bill’s sole purpose.
Alumnus Rep. Sara Walsh of Missouri has introduced legislation to create a Rush Limbaugh Day; ban the use of The 1619 Project, an award-winning look at slavery in America; allow people to carry firearms on public transportation; and prohibit vaccine mandates. (Walsh’s unvaccinated husband died from COVID-19, according to reporting by Sarah Posner.)
Other alumni include leaders from these states:
- Colorado: Rep. Patrick Neville, minority leader
- Georgia: Chuck Payne
- Indiana: Sen. Jeff Raatz
- Kansas: Reps. Susan Humphries, Dan Johnston, Luke Simons and Michelle Strinden
- Nebraska: Sen. Suzanne Geist
- North Carolina: Rep. Dean Arp, majority whip
- North Dakota: Rep. Ben Koppelman
- Ohio: Reps. Derek Merrin and Jena Powell
- Texas: Rep. Scott Sanford
- Wisconsin: Rep. Scott Allen
Another alumnus, Rep. Wes Goodman, resigned after years of complaints about him sexually propositioning other men.
School Board Academy ups pressure on public schools
Most of the approximately 9,000 school board elections slated for 2023 remain officially nonpartisan. But in the wake of COVID shutdowns, the Family Policy Foundation’s School Board Academy is working to change that.
“While education shifted from in-person to nearly all virtual, parents became aware of disturbing trends in curriculum, bias among teachers and administrators, and dangerous school policies,” the Foundation says.
“In response to the increased focus on and impact of school boards on American families, Family Policy Foundation has developed the first national school board training program delivered from a biblical worldview for pro-family school board members and candidates,” according to an article, “Why the School Board Academy?”
Family Policy Foundation says the online program prepares school board members and candidates for the challenges they will face and “equips them for successful service that honors God, protects children and preserves parents’ rights.”
Parental rights is a powerful political rallying cry that goes far beyond schools, as Gov. Glenn Youngkin proved during his successful 2022 campaign in Virginia. Concerns about access to school bathrooms led to a shake-up of schools and a game-changing shift of voters to Youngkin.
The 7.5-hour training is spread over three nights and covers worldview training, model policies, constitutional issues and law, hot topics (CRT, gender theory and parental rights) and “how to navigate the system and achieve goals.”
“FPF has developed a unique course to equip and empower conservative school board members to protect children from radical curriculum and dangerous policies, preserve parental rights and honor God through their service. The School Board Academy is the first-of-its-kind national training program taught by top legal and policy experts,” says the Foundation.
The “expert instructors” hail from Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, First Liberty Institute and other conservative partners.
Students’ $179 class fee includes their membership in School Board Exchange, which provides ongoing support, continuing education, legislative updates and “fellowship with like-minded colleagues.”
Alumnus David Anderson praised the program. “The most important race in America is the race for the school board,” said Anderson, who serves on a board in Washington state. “We win back our children, we save our nation.”
This article originally appeared in Baptist News Global.