CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – The Democratic Party of Illinois has accused three Champaign School Board candidates of pursuing “extremist political agendas.” But, they all deny promoting radical platforms and want to know why they’re being singled out.

In a news release from last week, the party described its $300,000 plan to “prevent extremist conservatives from implementing regressive platforms on school and library boards throughout the state.” To do that, they’re recommending candidates they believe share their values, and steering voters away from those they think have an extremist agenda.

“I am flabbergasted, to say the least,” candidate Jeffrey Brownfield said. “There is no need and there is no room for politics when we’re talking about our children.”

Jeffrey Brownfield, Mark Holm and Mark Thies say rumors have spread like wildfire over text messages discussing the state Democratic Party’s “unprecedented” advertising campaign. All three have been the subject of text messages circulating Champaign containing screenshots of a list with caution symbols next to their names, and green checkmarks next to the names of their four fellow school board candidates.

“Obviously, I struck a nerve someplace,” candidate Mark Holm said.

The list comes from a website called “Defend our Schools Illinois,” paid for by the Democratic Party of Illinois. During a phone call, a communications representative told WCIA the party hasn’t sent out any text messages to voters, but they plan to as part of their efforts to point out people they call “extremists” on the ballot.

“I’ve heard and read all the comments from my fellow running mates. And no one has said that they’re for any of these extreme measure,” candidate Mark Thies said.

A Democratic Party of Illinois spokesperson said in a statement they’re opposing candidates who have embraced values like censoring books, blocking full spectrum sex education, teaching revisionist history and ignoring public health. But each of the three Champaign candidates opposed by the party denies advocating for any of the outlined measures.

“I oppose all those, I have one agenda – and that’s to make Unit 4 stronger,” Thies said.

So, the question remains: why do their names appear in red on the list?

“I would like to know what they say is extremist about our view, I’d like them to demonstrate that,” Holm said.

In the same news release, the Democratic Party of Illinois said it’s also pushing back against national groups that “funnel dark money into Illinois to prop up fringe candidates.”

“In all candor, I’m not sure what dark money means. I have raised less than $150 for my campaign from family and friends,” Brownfield said.

Brownfield, Holm and Thies all say they’re against the brewing political undertones in a race that’s meant to be nonpartisan, and so is their fellow candidate Betsy Holder.

“The divisiveness is causing so many problems, not just in school boards, but across everything. And it’s only getting worse,” Holder said.

Addressing the issues

Brownfield: “I have no desire to ban any books… We need to trust them [librarians] on the kind of books we have for our children, and that they’re age-appropriate.”

“We need to teach every part of our history – all of the scars, all of the wars and all of the triumphs as well.” 

“We should have appropriate sex education for appropriate ages… But there are different things we should do for third graders than for 11th graders, and we have to keep that in mind.” 

Holm: “I’ve never said we’re up for banning books.”

“I never said that I’m against sex ed. I’ve always said that I’m up for having a committee, with our teachers, our parents or community members to review [the curriculum].”

In response to the Democratic Party of Illinois’ news release that reads: “DPI is fighting back to defend its values of diversity, equity and inclusion that make our education stronger for our children,” Holm said: “they keep saying they’re after ‘our kids.’ No, they’re our kids. They’re not the Democrat Party’s kids.”

Thies: “I am not for banning books. I’ve always said we have to rely on our professional librarians to give us proper material. Then it’s up to the parents to review the material that our students are bringing home.”

“We must get back to the basic core mission of our schools of teaching reading, writing, and math, and focusing the curriculum and academic core subjects on those foundational skills.”

“I think all students deserve strong education, because education is the pathway to success. And bringing politics into this is utterly ridiculous.”

WCIA reached out to the Illinois Republican Party for comment and have not heard back.

Candidate Albert “AJ” Zwettler shared the following statement with WCIA:

“I have spoken from my heart throughout the entirety of this campaign, always with our students at the forefront of my mind. I can assure you that I have not coordinated with any political parties throughout this campaign. If the Democratic Party of Illinois chooses to support my candidacy, that is within their rights. What is most important is for our community to choose the 4 candidates they believe will work together for the better of Unit 4, our students deserve that.”

Albert Zwettler

Below is the Democratic Party of Illinois’ full statement.

“The Democratic Party of Illinois is opposing candidates backed by known far-right organizations as well as those who have embraced values and policies that contradict those of the party including censorship of books, blocking full spectrum sex education, teaching revisionist history and ignoring public health. Many candidates intentionally couch their agendas with fuzzy language that may seem harmless, or at times even pragmatic, but their real intentions are far more nefarious. DPI is stepping in to ensure that credible community advocates have the resources they need to defend our values and voters have access to information about these crucial elections.

Democratic Party of Illinois spokesperson