Member of Washington School Board Under Fire for Saying 'Crack the Whip'

A Clover Park school / Facebook
January 7, 2021

A Washington state school-board member is under fire for using the phrase "crack the whip" during a virtual board meeting—a phrase his critics say is racist.

During a Dec. 14 board meeting for the Clover Park School District, board member Paul Wagemann told his colleagues that "we need to crack the whip" on increasing the graduation rate. Following his comment, fellow board members told Wagemann his comments were "racist," and community activists kickstarted a petition calling for Wagemann to resign.

Wagemann told the Washington Free Beacon that he will not apologize for his comments because he does not believe they are racist. In fact, he believes "cracking the whip" will promote equitable outcomes.

"Our goal should be to have a 100 percent graduation rate," Wagemann said. "The data is clear. If you don't have a high school diploma, you're probably going to end up in jail. … That's a concern for me."

The idiom "crack the whip" comes from the early 1600s, when settlers would crack a physical whip over a horse's head to startle him into obedience. Wagemann said that in recent years activists have tried to make the phrase a racial term.

"I looked up the definition and somebody tried to make it a racial term when it wasn't," he said.

Wagemann, a former Marine Corps pilot, has been a staunch advocate of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which provide vocational training for teenagers. In 2019, he won the school-board election against community activist Taniesha Lyons, who has repeatedly called Wagemann "racist" and created the petition calling for his resignation.

"Monday was not the first time [Wagemann] has made bigoted comments while sitting in a power position at the school board meeting," Lyons wrote in the petition. "This makes him a racist." The petition calls for Wagemann's immediate resignation and blames the school district for allowing a racist to sit on its board.

Lyons lost to Wagemann in the school-board election by 24 percent of the vote and has garnered a mere 190 signatures on her petition.

Wagemann told the Free Beacon that when Lyons filed to run against him for the school board position he considered withdrawing to elevate a woman of color to the position. Members of the community allegedly urged Wagemann to run against Lyons, however, after uncovering far-left comments on her social-media accounts. Wagemann described Lyons's style of campaigning as "throwing the district under the bus" and "playing the victim card."

The school board will not take any action against Wagemann for his comments.

Update 01/07/21, 8:45 PM: This story has been updated to clarify a quote from Wagemann.