Conservative parents and citizens across the country got a chance during the COVID-19 pandemic to see how their county school boards operated, and often they were not impressed. In New Hanover County, which is home to Wilmington and its coastal suburbs, a group called Tide Turners has formed to elect conservative school board members who can start to push back against some of what parents have objected to. After this election, the group’s founder says they are setting their sights wider, to North Carolina in general.
Bradley Walter is a small businessman and chiropractor in New Hanover. After praying over whether he should run for office, he sensed that God wanted him instead to help others get elected.
“The answer to my prayer was ‘fill the seats,’” Walter, the founder of Tide Turners, told Carolina Journal in an interview. “So I just took that and started meeting with people here. And out of that, Tide Turners formed.”
He, along with Lindy Ford, the director of development, have been working hard ever since to create a grassroots movement, saying, “With how quickly this all came together in the course of less than a year, it’s truly been amazing to be a part of.”
Tide Turners had a launch event in December of 2021 and announced four candidates that they were endorsing for the New Hanover County School Board.
“That’s our first mission this year is we’re just focused on four seats for the New Hanover County School Board, because that will provide a majority,” Walter said. “And putting four conservatives in is the best thing we can do for our kids.”
He said there are five candidates running in the Republican primaries, but they decided to endorse four, who they will then support through the general election as well.
“I would say the biggest separating factor is quality leadership skills,” Walter said. “The four candidates that we’ve chosen, we kind of had a coalition in mind for people who could work really well together. And they all have their individual platforms, which sync together really well.”
Their four pillars are transparency, fiscal responsibility, parents’ rights, and academics.
Going into a bit more detail on those four candidates, he said that Melissa Mason is focusing on school safety, as violence has risen and “isolation rooms” are still in use; Josie Barnhart “is a fierce, fierce leader” who has been a teacher for years and has an incredible back story; Pete Wildeboer is a conservative incumbent who has a “gentle spirit” but “doesn’t back down from the fight;” and Pat Radford is a small business owner who has spent her whole career working for children, including as a guardian ad litem, and owns a newspaper in Wrightsville Beach.
“They all four have exceptional leadership skills — that’s the biggest thing that we could ask for — and they’re solid, staunch conservatives, which is an obvious prerequisite for us as well.”
Walter said they have had a great response to their mission and their social media outreach. Many parents didn’t realize just how extreme some things going on in the district were. Walter said he was also unaware until he started the whole process.
“I didn’t even realize how crazy it was,” he said. “The funny thing is, we’re always watching the news and hear about all this stuff happening out on the west coast and towns that aren’t even close to us. But once you dive in and start looking in your own schools, it’s all right here in our home front as well.”
And that “craziness” is often well entrenched and well funded. Walter said a group called Carolina Federation has been dumping “a ton of money into New Hanover County” to push left-wing ideas in schools. There are also issues surrounding teacher sexual abuse and COVID-19 policies that have galvanized conservative parents in the area.
When asked if Tide Turners plans on spreading outside of New Hanover in future elections, Walter said, “Absolutely in North Carolina, that’s the next step. The next step [after that] would be to spread to other counties that need assistance. The vision is to see God-fearing conservatives fill all the seats. That’s what we want to work towards.”
In terms of a time frame, Walter says after this election cycle, they’ll “really start looking to branch out” to other counties.
“We’ve been making connections outside of North Carolina. [But] we’ve had candidates from around North Carolina reaching out for our endorsement, which is pretty amazing because all in all we’re hyper focused on New Hanover County for the school board, and our message is reaching across the whole state. That definitely is encouraging knowing that we want to spread across the state as well, to already have it organically occurring as far as the awareness of our brand.”
In terms of any national ambitions for the group, he said, “I could see us potentially moving outside North Carolina, but first and foremost I would say we’d need to have the systems and foundations in place and up in running for the state before we ventured out.”