There are a few races of interest, though the usual bet is that nothing unusual will happen.
Dakota Carter, a Democrat and underdog in District 6, said he got “fired up” to run for the board because he is tired of members manipulating the state’s curriculum to put it “more in line with politics rather than quality education for our kids.” To upend the direction of the board, he wants to unseat Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a conservative Republican who he contends lacks understanding of what it is like to teach or send children to public schools.
“I think who needs to be on the board are actual educators or parents with kids in public schools,” said Carter, who once was a substitute teacher and is pursuing a doctorate in education. “It’s strange to me why we would put so much power in somebody who honestly doesn’t have any experience of what happens in a public classroom, what teachers go through, what families go through in the public system.”
The Houston Federation of Teachers union typically would jump at the chance to try to unseat someone like Bahorich, who was a former staffer to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but has decided to sit this contest out, said Zeph Capo, president of Local 2415. Bahorich reaches across the aisle and regularly asks for the union’s opinion, he said.
“It’s very difficult to take a position against somebody who actually is working with you at the table and has done so long before anybody even considered running against them,” Capo said. “She’s willing to listen, she’s actually come to the table and she actually hasn’t been afraid to be seen with us.”
Last year, she appointed a Democrat to a key committee to study student testing and accountability, a move that signaled an easing grip on board partisanship.
“In this polarized society, that’s one of our problems, that we stay in our corners and we don’t talk to each other enough to work on things together,” said Bahorich, whose goals include focusing on college and career-ready courses and supporting successful charter schools. “There are some things we’re just going to have opposite. It’s better to have dialogue and conversation and try to work on things that you can agree on and move forward on.”
Not only does she face the race with the cachet of board chair, but the district largely is Republican, leaving an uphill battle for Carter, who would be both the youngest and first openly gay member to serve on the board if elected.
In Central Texas between Austin and San Antonio, conservative Republican Ken Mercer of San Antonio faces a challenge for the District 5 seat from Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, an English professor at Texas State University.
The district is largely Republican and has sent Mercer to serve on the board in every election for the last decade. He is one of its most conservative members, is a defender of creationism, doubtful of climate change and a steadfast believer that the division between church and state is not a constitutional principle.
This will be Bell-Metereau’s third run at Mercer, who she describes as one of the board’s “most extreme members.” Name recognition has helped her shrink the voter gap between them, but she has remained far from clinching a win. Debate on a controversial Mexican-American history textbook critics described as offensive and racist could have a bearing on the race should Latino voters, largely in San Antonio, mobilize against him.
West of Houston, Florence Republican Tom Maynard will try to defend his District 10 seat against Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat he beat by double digits in 2012. Jennings, who interprets student assessment data at Austin-based Resources for Learning LLC, argues the board micromanages the state curriculum and Republican members of the board are too afraid of right-wing groups to stand up to bad decisions. Maynard, considered a swing Republican on the board, is a former agriculture teacher and now executive director of the Texas FFA Association, also known as Future Farmers of America. He lists his top priority as demanding accountability and supporting local control.
The Chron endorsed Carter and Maynard but offered no opinion on District 5, which is centered in Bexar County. I’ve noted before that all three of these districts are susceptible, to varying degrees, of becoming competitive if the Presidential race is closer than expected. Here are the Presidential numbers from 2012 and the actual race results for your reference:
Dist Romney Obama Romney% Obama%
05 375,942 294,887 54.7% 42.9%
06 332,415 215,839 59.7% 38.8%
10 331,022 235,591 57.0% 40.5%
Member, State Board of Education, District 5
Ken Mercer REP 338,705 51.30%
Rebecca Bell-Metereau DEM 281,445 42.63%
Mark Loewe LIB 28,407 4.30%
Irene Meyer Scharf GRN 11,717 1.77%
Member, State Board of Education, District 6
Donna Bahorich REP 304,702 57.12%
Traci Jensen DEM 208,198 39.03%
Gene Clark LIB 15,189 2.85%
G C Molison GRN 5,328 1.00%
Member, State Board of Education, District 10
Tom Maynard REP 313,025 56.60%
Judy Jennings DEM 239,985 43.40%
In a sufficiently bad year for Republicans, Mercer could be in danger. It would need to be a really bad year for Bahorich or Maynard to sweat. The former remains a possibility, the latter probably needs the polls to be tied to be in play. Mercer is the worst of the three, so that’s good news. Let’s wait and see what the October poll numbers look like, but do keep these races in mind if those numbers continue to be encouraging.