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Monday, September 25, 2023
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Moms for Liberty founders host Ron Johnson for parents’ rights discussion before Republican presidential debate

Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice said parental rights will be the “number one domestic issue” for the 2024 election.

 MILWAUKEE — Conservative parental rights group Moms for Liberty hosted a discussion with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee Wednesday afternoon ahead of the first Republican presidential primary debate.

The group, which was designated as an anti-government extremist organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, emphasized the importance of “parental rights” in the 2024 election during their “Giving Parents a Voice” event. 

“People want to hear from the candidates about the issues that are affecting them,” said Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice. “Wisconsin parents are concerned. They're concerned about education. They're concerned about inflation. They're concerned about parental rights. And it's great to see Wisconsin and Milwaukee welcome the presidential candidates in the way they have.”

The group held a meeting with chapter chairs and national leaders about state level advocacy and mobilizing at the school board level in the morning. Sen. Johnson later took questions from Moms for Liberty leaders and spoke about the issue of the “radical left” in education, concerns about the “pushing of transgenderism” and the importance of getting out the conservative vote.

“We're not graduating teachers as much as we are indoctrinators, and that's certainly what was revealed during COVID.” Sen. Johnson said. “It was moms who are looking over the shoulder at their iPads and saying, ‘you’re teaching my child what?’ We're not graduating journalists anymore. We're graduating by and large advocates for the left.”

Justice and fellow co-founder Tina Descovich emphasized that they won’t endorse a Republican nominee, but are excited to bring “the parental rights issue” and the “failure of public education in America” to the forefront of candidates' minds. 

“Parental rights” are increasingly becoming a hotbed issue for conservative candidates. A notable example is Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who mobilized suburban voters around educational issues during his 2021 gubernatorial campaign — including COVID-19 restrictions, critical race theory and transgender policies in schools. 

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., former chair of the House Republican Study Committee caucus, said in a 2021 memo that Youngkin’s win showed Republicans “can and must become the party of parents.”

“Parental rights will be the number one domestic issue for the 2024 election. I think Gov. Youngkin’s election showed that was the trend and how it’s going to go,” Descovich said. 

Moms for Liberty was founded in January 2021 in Florida by Justice, Descovich and Bridget Ziegler, all former or current school board members who fought against COVID-19 mask mandates and school closures. The group has since worked to remove books from libraries and remove critical race theory and social-emotional learning from classrooms.

Since 2021, membership has grown to 125,000 members active in 285 chapters across 46 states. There are Wisconsin chapters in Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Polk, Rock, St. Croix, Vilas, Washington, Winnebago and Wood County.

Ziegler now works with the Leadership Institute, a conservative group that “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government and the media.” Zeigler led a school board training event with Moms for Liberty on Aug. 22 in Milwaukee.

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The majority of chapter chairs and vice chairs were at the debate, according to Justice and Descovich, who noted a lot of people were making up their mind about which candidate they support.

“People who have never been politically involved or engaged, a lot of our members that had never really voted in primaries before, are now never going to miss another primary again,” Justice said.

There was confusion over the location and format of the event. The group originally planned to host a candidate town hall event at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee, but the center’s events staff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it would not be hosting the event. 

The group later tweeted that the event was “canceled over the weekend because the fight for parental rights is so controversial.” Moms for Liberty announced their new plan with Sen. Johnson on Aug. 18.

“We very much wanted to have the event at the Italian Cultural Center. We heard it's a wonderful institution in Milwaukee,” Justice said. “We were saddened to hear that they did not want to host us and we're still not really sure exactly what happened to there.”

Sen. Johnson also said Wednesday his abortion views are the reason he won re-election. He advocated for a one-time, single-issue referendum in Wisconsin as opposed to taking firm congressional action against abortion access and thought 2024 presidential candidates should adopt his stance.

“In Wisconsin, if we expect to win statewide elections, we better grapple intelligently with the abortion issue because standing pat on the 1849 law will be used to gin up votes in Madison forever,” Sen. Johnson said.

Kenosha Moms for Liberty Chair Amber Infusino said she was excited to hear Sen. Johnson’s support for parental rights at a federal level.

“Being from Wisconsin and just knowing that he supports our mission is huge,” Infusio said. “He’s been a godsend for us here in Wisconsin.”

SPLC’s 2022 Year in Hate & Extremism report said the national group and its chapters “reflect views and actions that are anti-government and conspiracy propagandist, anti-LGBTQ and anti-gender identity and anti-inclusive curriculum.”

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association pushed back on the Marcus Corporation’s hosting of the event, noting on Instagram that "groups like Moms for Liberty are not welcome in Milwaukee.” Members of the association also protested outside of the Pfister Hotel on Tuesday.

“Does this mean Marcus would also be ok with hosting the KKK, Proud Boys, or other known hate groups? Where does it end? We refuse to allow hate to have a home in our city and we think a majority of Milwaukeeans would agree,” MTEA wrote in a post.

Prior to the event with Johnson, the group in the morning also met with Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty — a conservative law firm with whom they frequently partner — to hear about the group’s legislative efforts. 

Ozaukee County Chair Scarlett Johnson will lead a recently formed legislative committee to help the group prepare to testify on legislation in the fall.

Scarlett Johnson and Infusino recently attended Moms for Liberty’s national summit from June 29 through July 2, where the group hosted GOP hopefuls former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. 

“We can't endorse political candidates other than school board, but we’re going to have a seat at the table and I'm very grateful that they're willing to listen,” Infusino said. “Our venue was where they all were flocking to come.”

She voted for Trump in the last election. But ahead of last night’s debate, she didn’t want to hear candidates talk about his absence and emphasized that she’ll support whoever can “get things back on track again.”

“I want them to tell me what they're going to do for me, what they're going to do for my family. Between inflation, the border, COVID restrictions coming back again, a parental federal Bill of Rights on that level, that's what I want to know,” Infusino said. “For me, if we have a conservative candidate, that's what matters. I'll support anybody that's on that ticket out there once they get through the primary.”

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