Kansas mayor who tried to rid city library of LGBTQ books loses school board race

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s election shows Childs’ ‘traditional side’ platform failed to sway enough voters to his cause

By: - November 10, 2023 3:53 pm
Childs says he wants the library's books to meet his moral standard. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Matthew Childs, who campaigned on a conservative stance, lost his bid for a school board seat. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA  — St. Marys Mayor Matthew Childs, who previously attempted to ban LGBTQ books from the city’s public library, lost on his school board bid. 

Tuesday’s election saw several candidates from the religion-dominated area attempt to win school board seats on the USD 321 Kaw Valley School Board. 

The district, which oversees Rossville and St. Marys public schools, spreads across several counties. Election officials in Shawnee, Pottawatomie and Jackson counties worked together to calculate the final results for the board’s open seats, leading to some initial confusion over the final results. 

Elias Espinoza and Jodi Porter were elected to the board. Porter, up against Childs, won the position with 53% of the vote to Childs’ 47%, garnering 1,425 votes to Childs’ 1,281 votes. Childs did not immediately respond to Reflector inquiries.

All of the November election results are unofficial until a final canvass on Nov. 14.

“We are in a culture war which is increasingly threatening the welfare of children especially,” Childs said in a September candidate profile by the Times of Pottawatomie County. “I am unapologetically on the ‘conservative’ or traditional side of this war. Along with many like-minded parents, I am morally obligated to defend our children from physical and moral harm insofar as I can.”

Childs is part of the St. Marys’ governing body, a five-person city commission, and a heavily religious group that attends the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX. SSPX is a strict religious sect that broke away from the Catholic church. Commissioners have previously said their views  and governing decisions are influenced by their religious affiliation.

Childs is perhaps best known for formulating a “morals clause” for the city’s public library lease. The clause asked that the library not carry, encourage or accept any sexual, racial or “socially divisive” material that supported critical race theory or LGBTQ people. 

Though the library was allowed to continue operating in their location following massive public outcry, Childs has continued to speak against LGBTQ material in the library.  

“We don’t want transgender books in the library. … The elephant in the room is that we don’t want the library to be promoting certain types of material,” Childs said in a July commission meeting

Porter campaigned on teacher recruitment and keeping cell phones out of the classroom setting. 

“I want all those looking for teaching positions to have a desire to come here,” Porter said in her candidate profile. 

Preliminary results show Espinoza won against his opponent school board member Adrienne Olejnik, with 1,258 to 1,153 votes respectively. Reflector attempts to contact Espinoza were unsuccessful, but Espinoza is thought to have SSPX connections. A flyer for the St. Marys Academy and College lists him as a point of contact. Olejnik declined to comment publicly on the race. 

Espinoza and Childs were endorsed by the Kansans for Life PAC, which sent out mailers in favor of the two ahead of the election. The mailers alleged Olejnik had donated to “leftist causes” and that Olejnik would not “take a stand against drag queen story hours.” 

Incumbent candidates Michelle Martin and Kimberly Gillum returned to their board seats unopposed.  

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.