Tuesday, July 9, 2024

OK: Ryan Walters and Project 2025

Ryan Walters, the education dudebro-in-chief of Oklahoma, has made a national name for himself with a flurry of christianist nationalist policies (most recently requiring every classroom to include the Bible), which has helped distract from, the trouble he has getting along with legislators and doing his actual job. His rise has been swift and well-funded and bad news for Oklahoma education; as a modestly-paid state employee he was actually making the big bucks thanks to Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, yet another of those Koch & Walton privatization groups.

While Walter talks a big game of cultural warfare, he's not actually very good at his job, to the point that even like-minded conservatives have walked away from him. But Walters has the super-power of being super well connected. From his adoption by Governor Kevin Stitt. through his patrons at EKCO to his national profile courtesy folks like Fox News.

It's those connections we want to note. Now that everyone is finally catching on to the anti-liberty mess that is Project 2025, we should note that Walters is very tight with the Project 2025 crowd.

We can start with the PR firm that Walters has hired to boost his national profile. 

The firm is Virginia-based Vought Strategies, They seem like a great fit. Their website includes a testimonial from Jim DeMint calling the firm's founder, Mary Vought, "one of the best conservative communicators and public relations specialists in the nation." Mary Vought has been at it for a decade; previously she did coms work in the US Senate and House of Representatives, working for folks like Ron Johnson and Mike Pence; she's also a senior fellow for the far right Independent Women's Forum, and the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outfit that endorses the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Rick Scott. And she cranks out pieces like this one for the Daily Caller in which she writes "as a parent" (not a conservative PR operative) that she doesn't want her daughter reading naughty books. Or slamming NIH for Fox News. Or noting a Wall Street Journal profile of Walters, saying "we proudly stand beside our clients as they fight to protect our children and parental rights."

Mary Vought is also the vice president for strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 to push conservative business-friendly policies, and has developed into one of the most influential activist right-wing think tanks in DC. They are politically agile; they developed and promoted a health care proposal, then opposed it when it was adapted by the Obama administration as the Affordable Care Act. Their reaction to a Trump candidacy was to call him a “clown”, then once he was in office, they became a major voice in staffing; CNN said that “no other Washington institution has that kind of footprint in the transition.”

They have worked to push critical race theory bans, praised Florida’s dismantling of public education, and repeatedly argued for education funding to be voucherized. They even once tried to argue that school vouchers would increase the birth rate.

And, of course, they took point on the development of Project 2025.

A partner group for Project 2025 is the Center for Renewing America ("For God. For Country. For Community.") This group was created by Russ Vought, a Project 2025 project leader and Mary's husband. He previously served as Donald Trump's OMB director. He's one of the people accused of interfering with the Biden administration's transition; he is also among those who defied a Congressional subpoena during the Trump-Ukraine scandal. He's considered a likely candidate for Trump's next chief of staff. He has said we are in "post-Constitutional" times and wants to staff federal agencies with true believers who will bring the culture war to DC. He is a self-described Christian Nationalist, and argued way back in 2021 that Christian nationalism was "benign and useful."

Walters is also linked to Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage. He appeared on Kevin Roberts podcast in an episode teased with "The entrenched woke elites within our education system aim to dismantle the innocence of our children, erode parental rights, and undermine community authority over schools. Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters has boldly confronted them—and he's winning." Walters opened up by listing his struggles against the terrible media and the awful teachers' unions (he does not mention that much of his opposition has come from other GOP politicians) and he offers this:
The Heritage Foundation has been an incredible partner to help us develop what the plans are for the state, for our schools, for our education system

And praises them for sitting down with him and walking through the plan.  

Project 2025 is soaked with christianism and high level of culture panic. If you wonder what it looks like in action, looking at Ryan Walters in Oklahoma gives you just a small peak, because Walters tied toi the project and the ideology behind it. 

And this news just dropped-- Walters has tapped Kevin Roberts to lead the committee rewrite Oklahoma's social studies curriculum. The committee will also include fake historian Dennis Prager.

In a document obtained by the Washington Examiner, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters announced a “complete overhaul” to the curriculum with the goal to “inspire in students a love of country and a proper understanding of the American founding,” as well as completely eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology from schools.

“Teacher’s unions have been rewriting history, teaching students to hate America. But not under my watch,” Walters told the Washington Examiner. “Our goal is to give Oklahoma students an education that focuses on history, not indoctrination. The executive committee that we’ve assembled are experts in American exceptionalism, our Founding Fathers, and historical documents like the Bible. These things are essential to understanding our history.”

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