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Ken Mercer

Barohich not running again in SBOE6

Another open seat.

Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education chairwoman Donna Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, announced Friday she will not seek reelection in 2020 as the District 6 representative.

“I have 8 years of service on the board,” Bahorich said. “I feel like I’ve given it quite a bit of work.”

In a statement, Bahorich said her tenure has been “exceptionally challenging and gratifying.” One of 10 Republicans on board, Bahorich was first elected in 2012. She has served as chairwoman since 2015, after being appointed to the role by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Prior to her election, Bahorich served as a district director for then-state Sen. Dan Patrick. Before that, she worked in telecommunications.

Bahorich wasn’t as bad as she could have been, all things considered, but this is a definite upgrade opportunity for 2020. SBOE6 shifted significantly Democratic from 2016 to 2018, after a modest but decent shift from 2012 to 2016. Beto got 51.5%, and Mike Collier took a plurailty with 49.5%. SBOE5 with Ken Mercer is actually a brighter opportunity, but this one is right behind it. Two Dems are already in – Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner – so it’s a matter of who the GOP puts forward.

Couple things to add here. I have no idea if Bahorich is stepping down for the reasons she states or if the Democratic movement in the district pushed her in that direction. The SBOE is an unpaid, low-glamour-but-high-friction post, and it’s not hard for me to believe that two terms is enough for any rational person. It’s also not hard for me to believe that Bahorich decided she had better things to do than sweat out an election she wouldn’t have much control over, given the partisan tides, the lack of funds in these races, and the futility of campaigning for this low-profile position with so many voters in it. This is the kind of race where overall GOTV efforts are key, and while the lack of straight ticket voting is a new challenge to overcome, SBOE races are fairly near the top of the ticket – after the three federal races (President, Senate, Congress) and the statewides, which this year is just Railroad Commissioner and the Supreme Court/CCA. It’s before all of those county and district court races, so there should be no fatigue factor. After the 2018 sweep, Bahorich is the only non-statewide elected Republican who will be on my ballot. Or at least she would have been, but whatever the case I’m hopeful about changing that. With any luck, that just got a little easier.

Precinct analysis: SBOE districts

There are 15 members on the State Board of Education, five Democrats and ten Republicans. Of those ten Republican-held seats, four of them were in districts that were interesting in 2016:


Dist   Incumbent  Clinton   Trump   Obama  Romney
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    47.0%   46.8%   42.9%   54.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    46.3%   48.6%   38.8%   59.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    42.5%   51.6%   40.5%   57.0%
SBOE12    Miller    44.4%   50.1%   38.7%   59.7%
SBOE7   Bradley*    37.1%   59.2%   35.2%   63.6%

Dist   Incumbent    Burns Keasler Hampton  Keller
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    43.5%   51.3%   41.7%   53.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    41.5%   54.8%   38.5%   58.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    39.8%   54.7%   40.1%   54.9%
SBOE12    Miller    39.1%   56.6%   37.7%   58.8%
SBOE7   Bradley*    35.9%   60.9%   36.6%   60.8%

I included David Bradley’s numbers here because his will be an open seat in 2018, but as you can see he really doesn’t belong. Add Ken Mercer’s SBOE5 to the list of districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. I hadn’t realized it till I looked at the data. I had previously identified Mercer’s district as a viable target last year, and indeed it was a close race – he won by four points and failed to clear fifty percent. SBOE terms are four years so the next shot at Mercer isn’t until 2020, but he needs to be on the priority list then.

Districts 6 and 10 were also on the ballot last year and thus not up again till 2020. District 6, which is entirely within Harris County, shifted about seven points in a blue direction, and while I’d expect it to continue to shift as the county does, it’s still got a ways to go to get to parity. With SBOE districts being twice as big as Senate districts and generally being completely under the radar, getting crossovers is a challenge. District 10 didn’t really shift much, but it’s close enough to imagine something good happening in a strong year. District 12 is the only one on the ballot next year, and it’s the reddest of the four based on the downballot data. But if there’s a Trump effect next year, who knows what could happen. It certainly deserves a decent candidate. Keep it in mind as we go forward.

Races I’ll be watching today, non-Legislative edition

vote-button

This is my companion to yesterday’s piece.

1. SBOE district 5

I’ve discussed the SBOE races before. This particular race, between incumbent Ken Mercer and repeat challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau, is the one that has the closest spread based on past performance, and thus is the most likely to flip. If it does flip, it would not only have a significant effect on the SBOE, which would go from 10-5 Republican to 9-6, with one of the more noxious members getting ousted, it would also cause a bit of a tremor in that this was not really on anyone’s radar going into 2016. Redistricting is supposed to be destiny, based on long-established voting patterns. If those patterns don’t hold any more, that’s a big effing deal.

2. Appeals courts

I’ve also talked about this. The five courts of interest are the First, Fourth, Fifth, 13th, and 14th Courts of Appeals, and there are multiple benches available to win. I honestly have no idea if having more Democrats on these benches will have a similar effect as having more Democrats on the various federal appellate benches, especially given that the Supreme Court and CCA will most likely remain more or less as they are – I would love to hear from the lawyers out there about this – but I do know that having more Dems on these benches means having more experienced and credible candidates available to run for the Supreme Court and CCA, and also having more such candidates available for elevation to federal benches. Building up the political bench is a big deal.

3. Edwards County Sheriff’s race

Jon Harris is an experienced Democratic lawman running for Sheriff against a wacko extremist in a very Republican county, though one with a small number of voters. This one is about sanity more than anything else.

4. Waller County Sheriff’s race

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have this one on my radar until I read this Trib story about the race, in which the recent death of Sandra Bland is a factor. Waller County went 53-46 for McCain over Obama in 2008, though the Sheriff’s race that featured a problematic Republican was a lot closer. It was 58-41 for Romney, which is close to what it was statewide. Democratic challenger Cedric Watson will have to outperfom the countywide base to defeat incumbent Glenn Smith, it’s mostly a matter of by how much he’ll have to outperform.

5. Harris County Department of Education, Precinct 2

There aren’t any at large HCDE Trustee positions up for election this year, so I haven’t paid much attention to them. This race is interesting for two reasons. One, the Democratic candidate is Sherrie Matula, who is exceptionally qualified and who ran a couple of honorable races for HD129 in 2008 and 2010. And two, this is Jack Morman’s Commissioner’s Court precinct. A win by Matula might serve as a catalyst for a strong candidate (*cough* *cough* Adrian Garcia *cough* *cough*) to run against Morman in 2018.

6. HISD District VII special election

You know this one. It’s Democrat Anne Sung versus two credible Republicans and one non-entity who hasn’t bothered to do anything other than have a few signs put up around town. One key to this race is that it’s the only one that will go to a runoff if no one reaches 50% plus one. Needless to say, the conditions for a December runoff would be very different than the conditions are today.

7. HISD recapture and Heights dry referenda

I don’t think any explanation is needed for these.

What non-legislative races are on your watch list for today?

The Trump effect on the SBOE

The Trib covers some familiar ground.

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

At least one SBOE race is “very much in play,” said Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones. He’s referring to District 5, where Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Ken Mercer for the third time. The district reaches from Austin to San Antonio, extending northwest to cover several Hill County counties such as Llano and Kerr.

While Mercer — a fixture of the board’s far-right faction — is still the favorite to win, Jones noted the district is now “pink, not red” after the latest round of redistricting. With Trump also headlining the ticket, “the race stands to be the most tightly contested SBOE general election contest in more than a dozen years,” Jones wrote in an email.

Several recent polls show Trump is statistically tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton in GOP-friendly Texas.

Bell-Metereau, 66, a Texas State University English professor and former Fulbright scholar, notes that Mercer’s margin of victory has gotten smaller each time she’s run against him. In 2012, with Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ticket, Mercer, 61, an IT project manager and former state representative from San Antonio, won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. This year, there are only three candidates on the ticket, including Libertarian Ricardo Perkins, providing even more hope to Bell-Metereau.

“People are starting to look at the Republican brand with a little more skepticism,” she said. “I can’t help but see it as helping me.”

[…]

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

Jones said District 10, where Democrat Judy Jennings is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Maynard of Georgetown — also for the third time — is in play, too, although to a lesser extent. The district is wedged between Austin and Houston.

“Maynard remains a very heavy favorite to win in a district where Republicans enjoy a 10-point cushion even in the worst of times (pre-Trump worst of times, at least),” he said. “At this point, the best Democrat Judy Jennings can likely hope for is to keep Maynard’s margin of victory in the single digits.”

Maynard, 52, is one of the more moderate Republican education board members. The former school board member now heads the Texas FFA Association, a youth group focused on agriculture. Jennings, 62, formerly worked in the accountability division at the Texas Education Agency and now oversees assessment at Resources for Learning, an education consultancy.

Ten of the 15 board members are Republicans. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the margin of victory for incumbent Republicans in other races — SBOE and otherwise — may also be slimmer, Jones said.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning organization that closely monitors the education board, agreed.

“SBOE districts are so gerrymandered that general elections often aren’t competitive, but I think it’s true that the Trump disaster has at least the potential to shake things up in a lot of races up and down the ballot,” he wrote in an email, adding that “it probably helps challengers that some state board members sound so much like Trump.”

Dr. Dakota Carter, the Democrat trying to unseat Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, said “I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised Nov. 8.” Libertarian Whitney Bilyeu and Laura Palmer, a Green Party candidate, also are in the race.

“Unfortunately, what happens is these school board positions don’t get a lot of attention and usually go the way that several of the more well-known races go,” Carter said. “And so I think Donna has a real shot of this being her only term.”

I’ve discussed these three very races before. I’d love to see Mercer lose; he won in 2012 by less than ten points in a year when Mitt Romney was carrying Texas by 16, so you have to think that race will at least be closer this time. As with everything else, the question is how much of this is due to Republicans not voting for Trump but otherwise pushing the R button, how much is due to Rs not turning out, and how much is due to higher Democratic participation. If there’s enough of the latter two, Mercer and maybe one or both of the other two could be in trouble. We’ll know soon enough.

Chron overview of SBOE races

There are a few races of interest, though the usual bet is that nothing unusual will happen.

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

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.

A look ahead to SBOE races

Regardless of what happens with the other maps, the one map that was precleared and is set for the next decade is the SBOE. With all 15 members up for re-election (like the Senate, everyone has to run in the first election post-redistricting), there are already some hot races shaping up. This Trib story from a few days back has a look.

Now, with three longtime (and reliably moderate) members stepping down and all 15 members up for re-election because of changes brought about by redistricting, political control over the divisive board hangs in the balance. And even though the filing period has yet to begin, there are already signs that these races could get ugly. Questions about one member’s sexual orientation, for example, are already being raised.

Some board members will also undoubtedly try to oust each other. [David] Bradley, who consistently votes with the board’s social conservatives, said he would be “actively working” against Thomas Ratliff, [Don] McLeroy’s replacement.

Randy Stevenson, a Tyler businessman who served on the board from 1994 to 1998, announced Wednesday that he would run against Ratliff, a registered lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and whose opponents, because of that, have argued that he should be disqualified from office.

[…]

Bradley has yet to attract a declared opponent, but that’s expected to happen soon. Meanwhile, social conservative incumbents Ken Mercer and chairwoman Barbara Cargill have already drawn primary challengers, as has George Clayton. Bob Craig and Marsha Farney, moderate Republicans, and Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, have all announced that they will not seek re-election.

Farney was elected in 2010, so while she may have been a moderate, she certainly wasn’t “longtime”. As noted before, all of these races make me nervous. Having to rely on Republican primary voters to do something non-crazy is not a bet you want to have to make. And will a Democrat please file to run against Terri “Don’t call me “Terry” Leo? I promise to contribute to your campaign if you do.

The race in Clayton’s district, which now includes all of Collin County north of Dallas, may prove especially contentious. Clayton, a teacher who lives in Richardson, defeated longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in an upset during the 2010 primary. Miller now wants her old seat back and has launched a campaign attacking Clayton’s conservative credentials, in particular his support of a plan last spring that would have directed $2 billion from the Permanent School Fund to public schools.

[…]

But perhaps more damaging to Clayton in a Republican primary are the rumors that prompted him to send an email to members of the media last week with the subject line “sexual orientation.” Clayton, who was leaked the notes of a conversation between Miller and Tea Party Activist Susan Fletcher that mentioned his “living arrangements,” confirmed in the email that he has “a male partner who lives with me in my home.”

In a phone interview, Miller said that she was not the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. Fletcher said in an email that she was “urged by several sources in general” to investigate Clayton’s living arrangement — but not by Miller.

Clayton said in an email that when he realized his personal life might become an issue in the campaign, his first instinct was to “nip it in the bud.” That strategy has already cost him one supporter: Conservative blogger Donna Garner, who is a vocal follower of education issues, sent out an email Tuesday night retracting an endorsement of him.

Clayton said the political makeup of the board — and whether “cool heads and reasonable discussions” would prevail — depends on the next election. The board’s biggest responsibility in the next four years, he wrote, will be “to keep public education alive in Texas.”

Clayton’s win over Miller in 2010 might have been the most out-of-left-field result from that year. Nobody knew anything about the guy. He turned out to be an upgrade, so naturally the universe, or at least the Republican Party, is trying to course-correct. As with all of the other races so far, I have a bad feeling about this one.

Day One at the SBOE

Here’s your TFN Insider coverage of today’s SBOE science hearings. In Part I of the hearings, we find that the SBOE may not be such a major factor in school curriculum any more:

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials.Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

And we find that maybe, just maybe, the winds have shifted a bit:

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

We can only hope. In Part II we find that all those annoying pro-science testifiers are making Ken Mercer and David Bradley cry, and in Part I of the debate, we find there’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Which counts as good news with the SBOE. Here’s Steven Schafersman‘s coverage; Josh Rosenau has weighed in on Twitter but not yet on his blog. All the Twitter action is on the #SBOE hashtag if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, an object lesson in not being able to do more with less:

With one-third fewer people, the Texas Education Agency just can’t do everything it used to do.

State Board of Education members were were told on multiple occasions this morning that a lack of time and staffers had prevented the agency from doing some of the prep work that it would have done previously, such as creating a briefing book on new legislation.

Citing similar constraints, agency staffers said they had yet to produce rules for the implementation of Senate Bill 6, which fundamentally changes how school districts can use state dollars to buy instructional materials and technology. It was passed during the special session last month.

School districts, for example, are waiting to learn how much they will get under the new system to cover the cost of textbooks, hardware, software and other expenses associated with disseminating lessons to students.

Sometimes, when you fire a bunch of people, stuff just doesn’t get done. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

UPDATE: So far, so good. On to tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Endorsement watch: Beware the really bad candidates

Gloria Padilla in the Express News has some good advice.

Voting is not as easy as it used to be when communities were smaller and everyone knew the candidates. Smart voters need to do their homework and research their candidates. The uninformed choices made at the ballot box could have adverse consequences for generations to come.

I especially urge voters to research the State Board of Education candidates before casting a ballot.

There are two seats up in the Bexar County area.

In District 5, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau of Austin is facing incumbent Ken Mercer, a former state representative from San Antonio.

Mercer is a member of a dysfunctional majority on the state education board that is making Texas the laughingstock of the nation. He has used his position on the state board to promote his personal beliefs and force them into to the curriculum. That is not the role of a state board of education member.

Bell-Metereau is a Fulbright scholar and professor at Texas State University in San Marcos.

There is no incumbent in the District 3 race. Democrat Rick Agosto, who held the seat for the last four years, chose not to seek a second term.

Voters in this race have a choice between another well-respected university professor and a man prone to non-responsive answers to most questions.

Anyone who has ever met the two candidates knows there is only one qualified candidate in this race. Republican Tony Cunningham, the Republican candidate, has no clue what the job is about and will talk about the Constitution and job creation when asked about education.

His opponent, Democrat Michael Soto, grew up in Brownsville and was educated at Harvard. He has a son enrolled in the San Antonio Independent School District. He knows public education.

We may never have another election in which this much attention has been paid to SBOE races. Hopefully, we will also never have another election in which the likes of Cynthia Dunbar can get elected without opposition because no one pays attention to SBOE races. Whatever happens in the actual races, a lot more people understand that races like these are as important as the ones they’re used to hearing about and paying attention to, and that’s a good thing.

Fear of debating is contagious

From the inbox:

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Democratic nominee for State Board of Education District 5, and Judy Jennings, Democratic SBOE nominee in District 10, criticized their Republican opponents and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas today, after the RPT Chairman urged the two Republican nominees for those offices to skip a debate which would enable voters to hear from all the candidates in the two races.

The Democrats also challenged the Republican nominees for the two State Board slots to either admit that they begged the Republican Party to provide them an excuse to skip the debate, or to ignore their partisan Republican boss and face their Democratic opponents at the event.

The League of Women Voters-sponsored debates will be held September 28 in Austin, and televised by debate partner KLRU-TV. The debates will be moderated by Evan Smith, a respected journalist who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Texas Tribune and host of “Texas Monthly Talks,” a news program on KLRU-TV.

“It is painfully obvious that the two Republicans running for State Board of Education are worried that the Democratic nominees would trounce them in a fair fight, so they asked their state Party Chairman to give them any flimsy excuse not to participate,” said Harold Cook, a spokesman for Democrats Bell-Metereau and Jennings.

“Republican nominees for SBOE Marsha Farney and Ken Mercer have a lot of questions to answer, and they should come out of hiding and answer them. Are they going to participate in a fair debate, moderated by a respected non-partisan journalist, or are they going to follow the orders of their partisan boss? Texans are tired of the State Board of Education being Republicans’ political football, in which the school children of Texas get kicked around – this is supposed to be about quality public education, not political gamesmanship,” Cook said.

Both the Democrats have notified the League of Women Voters that they will participate in the League’s debate, and cautioned their opponents not to duck voters by failing to participate.

“I am honored to participate in the debate and to share my views with voters on how the State Board of Education can do much better for Texas school children. If my opponent respects the voters whose support she seeks, she will accept the offer to participate in this debate as well,” said Judy Jennings.

Jennings noted that this isn’t the first time her hyper-partisan opponent Marsha Farney has run for cover. Farney refused to respond to repeated attempts by reporters to contact her, after she was caught by the Austin American-Statesman characterizing Democrats in Texas as “America-bashing Democrats” at a Tea Party rally recently.

Both Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau have often decried the partisanship displayed by the incumbent Republican members of the Board.

“I’m pleased to accept the opportunity to let voters know my priorities if they elect me to the SBOE, and I’m equally pleased about the chance to inform voters of what my opponent has already done as an SBOE member,” said Rebecca Bell-Metereau. “I urge him to participate in the debate, because he has some explaining to do regarding his priorities while in office,” she said.

The dispute started yesterday, after Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri released a statement urging both of the Republican nominees to skip the debate, claiming that the Austin Chapter of the League of Women Voters wouldn’t be fair, despite the fact that the organization has hosted such forums for years without complaint. For this event, the League has partnered with Austin PBS affiliate KLRU to televise the debates, and had arranged for Evan Smith to moderate.

From Rick Perry to Greg Abbott to Farney and Mercer and who knows who else. Are there any Republicans out there that aren’t afraid to engage in a debate this year?

Fundraising: SBOE

Really only two races of interest here, SBOE 5 and SBOE 10. Let’s take a look.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458837&form=COH

Totals From Report For Rebecca L. Bell-Metereau
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,790.51
Total Political Contributions: $69,779.06
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $79.17
Total Expenditures: $29,172.85
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $170.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $43,076.61
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457461&form=COH

Totals From Report For Kenneth B. Mercer
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $535.00
Total Political Contributions: $6,675.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $45.87
Total Expenditures: $24,969.83
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,720.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Not a bad haul at all for Bell-Metereau. SBOE districts are enormous, twice the size of State Senate districts, so that money will only go so far, but in context, it’s quite impressive. Mercer presumably had a few bucks lying around from his previous campaign, and I daresay he’ll depend more on the partisan lean of this district to win rather than any actual campaigning. But if he does plan to run a race, he’ll need to find the money for it first.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458836&form=COH

Totals From Report For Judith A. Jennings
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,876.61
Total Political Contributions: $54,600.81
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $40.29
Total Expenditures: $26,214.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $150.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $36,406.78
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458786&form=COH

Totals From Report For Marsha L. Farney
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period April 04, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $17,975.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $10.75
Total Expenditures: $101,875.04
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $4,049.86
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Jennings has another decent Democratic haul. Note that Farney’s totals only cover three months while Jennings’ span six; this is because Farney was in a primary runoff that she won in April. However, if you add her contributions raised in the previous three periods to this, she collected $44,276 for the six months, meaning that Jennings still out-raised her.

You may also notice the large sum Farney reported spending in this period. In fact, she spent an equal or greater amount in the two prior periods as well, and going back to the start of the year has dropped nearly $400K on this race. Almost all of that is reported on the Schedule G form, which is for “Political Contibutions Made From Personal Funds”. The disclaimer on each item is “Reimbursement for political contributions intended”. In short, she’s loaned herself all this money but hopes to get future contributors to pay it back. It’s still money spent, but if you look at her most recent form, the vast majority of these expenditures were made in April; in other words, they were runoff expenses, and thus aimed at a limited audience. If she’s spent that much so far to get nominated, it stands to reason she’ll spend at least as much to get elected, and while as I’ve said there’s a difference between raising money and spending it, that will still be of great use to her. That said, Jennings clearly has the advantage in the breadth of her campaign.

There is a third race that we’re all watching for the SBOE, of course, and that’s Michael Soto’s race in SBOE 3. Here’s Soto’s report – he raised $11K and has about $8K on hand. I didn’t add his report in like the others because he’s running in a strong D district – it’s about ten points more Democratic than SBOE 5 is Republican – and as such, I didn’t even bother to look up his opponent’s name. But here it is for your perusal nonetheless.

Just a minute, SBOE

I almost missed this op-ed by State Rep. Carol Alvarado about everyone’s favorite clown show, the State Board of Education. In it, she hits on a theme we’re seeing more and more of.

How can board members claim that our students will be college-ready when those same members use curriculum standards to rewrite history?

For example, board members deleted Thomas Jefferson, who wrote our Declaration of Independence and championed separation of church and state, from a list of great Enlightenment thinkers who have inspired people around the world in their struggles for freedom. They refused to require students to learn that the First Amendment bars government from promoting one religion over all others.

Even though we’ve seen similar stuff lately from the likes of Bill White and State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, it didn’t hit me until I read those paragraphs that what we’re witnessing is Democrats using a cultural wedge issue against the Republicans. I guess I just don’t see that often enough to recognize it for what it is. And it’s one on which the GOP ought to be vulnerable. I mean, who outside of the Cynthia Dunbar nut fringe has an issue with Thomas Jefferson, for crying out loud? Let Dunbar’s partymates get into all the nuances to explain her bizarre rationale, we’ll be over here pointing out how whacked out it is to be calling a Founding Father intolerant of Christianity. And I must say, as a child of the 80s who lived through all of the Dead White European Males culture war stuff, it’s hilarious to see it all come full circle like this. Who said history had to repeat itself as tragedy before it became a farce?

Rep. Alvarado has an idea for how to handle this that I like, too:

Board members should seriously reconsider this process and assure parents that they are putting the education of Texas schoolchildren first. Doing so requires only some fairly simple steps.

First, the current process should be halted and resumed only when the newly elected state board members take their seats in January. Doing so will help the board create a new process that is better insulated from personal and political agendas. There is no need to hurry through the revision of standards that will guide what our children learn for a decade.

What she means, of course, is that the Board should not vote to give final approval to the new standards that were approved earlier this month until after Dunbar, Don McLeroy, and Geraldine Miller have all finished serving their terms. We know McLeroy and Miller will be replaced by more moderate voices, and Dunbar may be, depending on the GOP primary runoff and/or the November election; Ken Mercer is also facing a strong challenger. The odds are that many, maybe even all, of the crazier things that got adopted this month could be repealed and replaced if the final decision were left till 2011. Obviously, I don’t expect this to happen, but as campaign fodder goes, it’s pretty darned good.

More on the SBOE

The Texas Freedom Network does a victory dance over the defeat of wingnut SBOE member Don McLeroy, noting that overall the forces of good did much better than the far right did.

“Don McLeroy was right when he said this election was a referendum on what the board has done over the past four years,” [TFN President Kathy] Miller said. “Voters sent a clear message by rejecting the ringleader of the faction that has repeatedly dragged our public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars over the past four years. Parents want a state board that focuses on educating their kids, not promoting divisive political and personal agendas.”

The Republican primary between McLeroy and challenger Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant had the highest profile of all the state board contests. In addition to McLeroy’s defeat in District 9, Randy Rives of Odessa lost his race against incumbent Bob Craig of Lubbock in the District 15 Republican primary, and Joan Muenzler lost her District 3 GOP primary against fellow San Antonian Tony Cunningham. Both Rives and Muenzler were backed by far-right groups such as WallBuilders and the Texas Pastor Council.

In addition, Austin attorney Brian Russell, who Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, recruited to run for her District 10 seat, was forced into a Republican runoff against Marsha Farney of Georgetown.

The NCSE also celebrates McLeroy’s defeat. There’s a decent chance that Dunbar’s old seat could flip to the Democrats, where Judy Jennings is the nominee. Democrats also have a strong candidate in Rebecca Bell-Metereau running against Ken Mercer in district 5, though that’s a tougher hill to climb. Here’s an email I got from Suzy Allison, that lays out what we have to look forward to from here:

PRIMARY RESULTS ARE IN – THE LINEUP FOR THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

There are eight SBOE seats which will be filled in November. Here are the results so far.

Some you win, some you lose, one goes into overtime.

District 1 – 38 counties from El Paso to Starr County along the Rio Grande, stretching north to include Midland County, Mason and Bandera Counties. Rene Nunez (D), incumbent. Nunez is the Democratic nominee, and will be challenged by Carlos “Charlie” Garza, the Republican nominee. Neither had a primary challenger. This district’s down-ballot race non-Presidential year performance in 2006 was 53.5% D, 46.5% R.

District 3 – All or part of 13 counties from Bexar in the north to Hidalgo County in the south. Rick Agosto (D), incumbent. Michael Soto is the Democratic nominee (Agosto did not file for re-election), Tony Cunningham is the Republican Nominee. The down-ballot off-year numbers from 2006 for this district are 57.9% D, 42.1% R.

District 4 – Part of Harris County and a small part of Fort Bend County. Lawrence A. Allen, Jr. (D), incumbent. Allen is returning to the SBOE, as he had no primary challenge and has no Republican opponent in this overwhelmingly Democratic district.

District 5 – Parts of Bexar and Travis Counties, as well as Bell, Burnet, Llano, Gillespie, Blanco, Kendall, Hays, Caldwell, Guadalupe and Comal Counties. Ken Mercer (R), incumbent. Mercer won his primary and is the Republican nominee. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the Democratic nominee. The 2006 down-ballot percentages for this district are 41.2% D, 58.8% R.

District 9 – From Fannin, Lamar and Red River Counties in the north, stretching south to include Brazos, Grimes and Walker Counties, includes part of Collin County. 29 counties lie entirely or partly in this district. Thomas Ratliff has beaten Don McLeroy in the Republican primary and will be seated on the SBOE. No Democrat filed in this Republican district.

District 10 – Parts of Travis County on the western end, and Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties on the eastern end, this also includes Williamson, Milam, Bastrop, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Gonzales, DeWitt, Lavaca, Colorado, Austin, Washington and Waller Counties. Cynthia Dunbar (R), incumbent. Dunbar chose not to run for re-election. Judy Jennings is the Democratic nominee who had no primary opposition. Brian Russell and Marsha Farney will face each other in the Republican run-off. This district’s down-ballot performance in 2006 was 46.7% D, 53.3% R.

District 12 – Parts of Dallas and Collin Counties, Rockwall County. Geraldine “Tincy” Miller (R), incumbent. George M. Clayton, in a surprise, has beaten Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and will take a seat on the SBOE. Miller was usually a constructive voice on the SBOE. Clayton is relatively unknown, but some of his comments in a newspaper interview make it possible to doubt that he will be as constructive. This Republican district had no Democrat filed. This district’s 2006 down-ballot numbers were 37.8% D, 62.2% R.

District 15 – This 75-county (as in huge) panhandle district includes Lubbock County as its largest population center. Bob Craig (R), the incumbent, beat his primary opponent and will return to the SBOE. No Democrat filed. This district’s down-ballot numbers in 2006 were 30.2% D, 69.8% R.

Still unclear what Clayton’s defeat of Tincy Miller means. His website is sparse and amateurish, and while I get a somewhat hinky vibe from it, I really can’t draw any conclusions about him from it. Far as I can tell, no one has done a story on him or interview with him since Tuesday, and the TFN still hasn’t addressed his victory – for that matter, neither has anyone on the other side – so for now he’s a cipher. Stuff like this doesn’t help:

Clayton managed to topple the incumbent with his low-budget campaign, mostly conducted through appearances around the district and a Web site promoting his run.

“If you think that having a working teacher on the State Board of Education might be a refreshing, productive and appropriate move, then you will need to vote for me,” he said on his site.

Clayton of Richardson, who is academic coordinator at North Dallas High School, said on his site that “personal political views of board members should play no part in their decisions regarding textbook content or curriculum” – an apparent slap at the board’s social conservative bloc.

He did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Hard to say what the guy plans to do or how he plans to act if he isn’t talking. If anyone knows anything about him, please speak up in the comments. Thanks.

Election results: McLeroy loses!

The second-best news of the evening is that wackjob SBOE member Don McLeroy lost to Thomas Ratliff, thus making the state’s worst elected body at least somewhat less dysfunctional.

The board’s balance of power is delicate. Though it’s had ten Republicans and five Democrats serving, seven socially conservative Republicans formed a reliable voting bloc that, with the swing vote of Democratic member Rick Agosto, gave them the power to advance a socially conservative agenda.

That’s over now. Agosto did not seek re-election, and his probable replacement, Democrat Michael Soto, originally set out to challenge him and isn’t likely to take the same positions Agosto took. (Republican Tony Cunningham will run against Soto in the general election, but Cunningham hasn’t filed an campaign finance report since 2006, while Soto’s last report showed him raising $14,000.)

Without Agosto, the social conservative bloc needed both McLeroy and Ken Mercer to survive the election in order to maintain its power. Both races featured incumbent social conservatives versus more mainstream Republican lawyer-lobbyists. Both were expected to be close. One was, one wasn’t.

McLeroy lost by just over one thousand votes against Thomas Ratliff, a lawyer and lobbyist who also happens to be the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.

The vote tally I see on the SOS Election Night Returns page is Ratliff 56,207, McLeroy 55,368. A recount is possible, but that margin is unlikely to change by more than a handful. No matter what else happens this year, that one election has enabled Texas to take a huge step forward.

The other big SBOE result, which apparently caught the entire political world by surprise – not the only such result for the evening, as you’ll see – was the ouster of longtime Board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller by some guy no one has ever heard of.

Miller, who has served on the board since 1984, lost to challenger George Clayton, an educator with an unorthodox platform. Clayton only spent $1,788 on the race compared to Miller’s $54,685.

[…]

What Clayton’s addition will mean for the board isn’t clear. His platform, according to his website, argues for ending “all punitive measures against teachers resulting from poor student performance on all district and state mandated tests” and for requiring that all curriculum proposals “be approved by a general vote of teachers in a district.”

As for his views on social issues, the traditional flashpoint for the state board, the best clues come from his interview with the Dallas Observer, in which Clayton said: “It’s seems to me you can’t be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism]. It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism.”

Even the Texas Freedom Network was unprepared for this one. I’m sure we’ll be learning more about him soon.

Elsewhere, Ken Mercer easily defeated Tim Tuggey, so the route to improvement in that district goes through Rebecca Bell-Metereau‘s campaign; mainstream incumbent Republican Bob Craig beat back his wingnut challenger; and there will be a GOP runoff for Cynthia Dunbar’s seat, with Rebecca Osborne unfortunately finishing third. Get to know Judy Jennings, people.

Endorsement watch: Statesman on the SBOE

The Statesman makes some recommendations in SBOE primaries in hopes of getting a better, or at least a slightly less dysfunctional, Board for the coming year.

In the District 5 Republican primary, Tim Tuggey, 54, gets our endorsement. Tuggey, running against incumbent Ken Mercer, is a lawyer and lobbyist from Austin who graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, served as a captain in the U.S. Army and is a product of Texas public schools.

Tuggey brings a level head and financial management experience to the board. It speaks volumes that he has earned the endorsement of business leader Red McCombs and H-E-B. CEO Charles Butt for a campaign that focuses on improving dropout rates, preparing students for college or work after high school and competent oversight of the school fund.

In the District 5 Democratic primary, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 60, is the best choice. She is running against Daniel Boone, Josiah James Ingalls and Robert Bohmfalk.

Bell-Metereau brings strong skills to the job as a longtime English professor at Texas State University. With a distinguished academic background, experience raising two daughters in San Marcos public schools, high energy and thorough knowledge of the challenges facing public schools, she won’t put politics over children’s welfare.

For District 10, we endorse Republican Rebecca Osborne, 51, a teacher in the Round Rock school district. It would be a refreshing change to have someone on the board who could give a contemporary classroom perspective. In addition to college preparation, she wants schools to offer career and vocational instruction for students who decide to go directly to jobs after high school.

[…]

We’re also making an endorsement in the District 9 race that includes Brazos County, home of Texas A&M University. We recommend Thomas Ratliff in the Republican primary.

Ratliff, 42, of Mount Pleasant, a graduate of Texas Tech University with a UT master’s degree, has immersed himself in public school issues, including serving as a room parent for his daughter’s second grade class. He understands the urgency of the task of getting students ready to compete in a global society.

His opponent, incumbent Don McLeroy, 63, is stuck in the past, advocating a back-to-basics curriculum that all but guarantees that Texas students will lag behind their peers. Time to end McLeroy’s tenure.

That’s not even counting McLeroy’s – and Mercer’s – troglodytic views on science, history, and just about everything else. The Trib has a good overview of the SBOE 5 GOP primary as well, and you just can’t help but notice how much this stuff is about politics and grievances for the likes of Mercer and McLeroy and their destructive crew. Getting those two to join their retiring comrade Cynthia Dunbar on the sidelines would be such a huge step forward.

Endorsement watch: Cisneros for Bell-Metereau

I’ve written about the GOP primary in SBOE District 5 a couple of times, as there’s a sensible Republican (Tim Tuggey) running against incumbent wingnut Ken Mercer there. SBOE 5 also has a competitive Democratic primary, and by all indications I’ve seen the best candidate among them is Texas State University English professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau. She got a nice coup this week when former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros endorsed her candidacy.

“Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the kind of person Texas families need at the State Board of Education. She’ll stand up for our neighborhood schools, our children and our future,” Cisneros said.

“She knows that the State Board of Education should focus on our children and schools, not a right-wing agenda. That’s why I’m supporting her–Rebecca will stand up for Texas kids,” he said.

[…]

“Republican incumbent Ken Mercer is a divisive figure on the board. He uses his seat as a platform from which to ignite controversy and fight skirmishes over obscure ideological points rather than to serve the real-world needs of schoolchildren, parents and teachers,” Bell-Metereau said.

Bell-Metereau is one of four Democrats running for the nomination. She is the only candidate picking up major endorsements from Democratic organizations and education groups.

“When I’m elected, I will work to return the SBOE to its core objective, which is to ensure that our neighborhood schools are the envy of the nation,” Bell-Metereau said.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Those of you in the San Antonio area, take a look at Rebecca Bell-Metereau and consider giving her your vote in the primary. Thanks to BOR for the tip.

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Tim Tuggey

The Texas ParentPAC has gotten itself involved in another Republican SBOE primary, this time on behalf of San Antonio’s Tim Tuggey, who is challenging incumbent Ken Mercer in District 5. Here’s their release:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Tim Tuggey in the Republican primary for District 5 State Board of Education, which includes all or part of 12 counties in Central and South Texas.

“Tim Tuggey will be a partner with parents, educators, and elected school board trustees and an advocate for all schoolchildren,” said Texas Parent PAC chair Carolyn Boyle of Austin.”He has strong leadership skills, an engaging personality, and a conservative and collaborative temperament that will be a real asset on the State Board of Education.”

Texas Parent PAC was created by parents in 2005 with the goal of electing more state leaders who will consistently stand up for public education. A broad base of individuals and business leaders supports the PAC’s bipartisan grassroots campaign efforts.

The 15-member elected State Board of Education is not well-known by voters. The board is responsible for establishing policy, adopting curriculum standards and textbooks, and providing leadership for the state’s public school system. In Texas, 4.7 million students attend public schools on more than 8,300 campuses.

“This election has statewide implications, because the State Board of Education sets policy affecting every child and every public school classroom in Texas,” said Texas Parent PAC board member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. “Tim Tuggey understands there are too many education dictates coming from Austin and Washington, and more local control will help to achieve excellence in public education for all Texas students.”

Texas Parent PAC leaders said Tuggey has a proven record of leadership in three different cities in SBOE District 5. He is well-connected in rural and urban communities and understands their unique needs for education and work force development. For example:

In San Antonio, Tuggey served as chairman of VIA Metropolitan Transit, Leadership San Antonio, and Free Trade Alliance San Antonio, as well as a range of other civic activities.

In Austin, he is managing partner of business law firm Tuggey Rosenthal Pauerstein Sandoloski Agather LLP. The firm also has offices in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.

At Fort Hood in Bell County, Captain Tuggey commanded the 230 men and women in Company A, 54th Signal Battalion, which deployed all over the world to provide tactical communications.

Tuggey describes himself as an “Army brat,” as he followed his parents all over the United States and the world while his father was an Army officer. He graduated from Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi and then received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to the University of Richmond in Virginia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English and political science. He later earned a master’s degree in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Tuggey has three children, Katherine, Chris, and Nora. His wife, Margaret, is a teacher at Akins High School in the Austin ISD.

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing a small and select number of Republican and Democratic candidates statewide. The PAC describes its endorsed candidates as “men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.”

Public school supporters are encouraged to visit www.timtuggey.com to find a map of District 5 and persuade their friends and relatives throughout the large district to vote for Tuggey during the early voting period February 16 – 26 and on election day, March 2. Texas Parent PAC is also urging parents to volunteer in the Tuggey campaign and/or donate money and in-kind services.

As I’ve said before, my preferred outcome is for a Democrat to win this seat, and from what I have seen it looks like Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the best candidate for that. But if we don’t get that, then getting a better Republican to replace Mercer is still an improvement. If you or someone you know lives in SBOE District 5 (your voter registration card should indicate this) and are of the Republican persuasion, please check out Tim Tuggey for the primary.

Another SBOE primary fight to watch

I’ve mentioned before that the GOP primary for SBOE District 5 is worth watching, but I didn’t know much about it at that time. This Statesman article helps to fill in the blanks.

The brouhaha over the teaching of evolution in the science curriculum caught the attention of some in the San Antonio business community, said Carri Baker Wells, chairwoman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

There was a concern that decisions were being made based on ideology rather than sound science, and that affects how prepared Texas students are to compete, said Wells, adding that the chamber does not endorse candidates.

Among [challenger Tim] Tuggey’s givers are some of San Antonio’s biggest names in business, including Red McCombs, the auto magnate; Bartell Zachry, chairman of the construction conglomerate Zachry Group Inc. and former chairman of the Governor’s Business Council; and Charles Butt, president and chief executive officer of H.E. Butt Grocery Co.

“I think that our State Board of Education is somewhere between inept and dysfunctional,” said McCombs, namesake of the University of Texas business school. “The kids are entitled to more than what they’re getting.”

McCombs cites the state’s high dropout rate, in particular, as an indication that the system is broken, and he says [incumbent Ken] Mercer is a part of that system.

“He has had his turn at bat, and I’m ready to put in a new player,” McCombs said.

Obviously, I would prefer to have a Democrat in this seat, but if we can’t have that I’ll be happy with a Republican that won’t be there to do the bidding of the religious right. This race ought to be an interesting test to see which faction within the GOP is stronger.

The DMN on the SBOE

The DMN takes a look at the various State Board of Education races for 2010. Much of this we already know, but two things to note:

Eight of the 15 board seats are on the ballot this year.

Three of those, including McLeroy’s, are held by members of the social conservative faction. Another social conservative running for re-election is Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, who has similarly drawn a strong challenger in the GOP primary, San Antonio lawyer Tim Tuggey. Four Democrats have also filed for the post.

[…]

Republican Bob Craig of Lubbock, an incumbent who has often been at odds with the social conservatives, is facing a primary challenge from a former school board chairman in Odessa, Randy Rives, who pushed through a controversial Bible study class and an abstinence-only sex education program in that district.

The Texas Freedom Network elaborates further.

Craig’s primary opponent is Randy Rives (no Web site yet), who served one term on the Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees in Odessa. In 2005 and 2006, Rives pushed through approval of a deeply flawed high school Bible course, with the board choosing class materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report in 2005 revealed that the National Council’s sloppy curriculum was riddled with factual errors and promoted an almost exclusively fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the Bible. After local parents sued, school district officials agreed to stop using the curriculum.

Rives also was a key player in having the local school board implement a strict abstinence-only policy on sex education classes in the district. Today Ector County is still struggling to bring down a teen pregnancy rate that is highest in the state and twice the national average.

Craig, a traditional Republican conservative, has been a consensus-seeker on the state board. Sure enough, that has earned him the bitter hostility of far-right extremists who oppose teaching about evolution in science classrooms and have repeatedly attacked curriculum recommendations made by teachers and academic experts (condemned by the far right as “radicals” and “educrats”).

No Democrat filed for the seat. Should Craig lose his bid for re-election to Rives, the state board could move even further to the right.

[…]

District 5

Incumbent Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, faces a tough fight in his Republican primary against Tim Tuggey, an Austin attorney and past chair of San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit agency. Tuggey has the backing of a number of San Antonio heavyweights, including businessmen Red McCombs, Bartell Zachry and David Spencer. Mercer has been a reliable vote for the board’s far-right faction.

Four Democrats have filed for the District 5 seat. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is an English and film professor at Texas State University-San Marcos. Robert Bohmfalk is a mental health case manager from Seguin. Daniel Boone of Canyon Lake is a retired career Air Force officer and a professional psychologist who has taught at the university level. Josiah Ingalls is a machine operator in Austin.

So the good news is that there’s another way for something good to happen, if Mercer gets knocked off in his primary. The bad news is that there is a way for something bad to happen, and that would be if Bob Craig were to lose. And unfortunately, whatever happens in this election, the Board will have already done whatever damage it’s going to do to the social studies textbooks. The best we can hope for is to begin the turnaround. The Sensuous Curmudgeon has more.

The SBOE slate

Martha has a great rundown of the slate of candidates for the State Board of Education, along with some partisan index numbers for the districts, which you should check out. The best part about this is that with Michael Soto replacing Rick Agosto in District 3, the Board is assured of being at least a little bit better. Dems have a decent shot at claiming the now-open seat being vacated by the loony Cynthia Dunbar in 10, but even if Judy Jennings doesn’t pull it off, we may get a better Republican in there if Rebecca Osborne is their nominee. Knocking off the crappy Ken Mercer in District 5 is a much longer shot, but Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Daniel Boone are both good candidates for the Democrats. And finally, if Thomas Ratliff can take out ur-wingnut Don McLeroy in the GOP primary in 9, that would be beyond awesome.

I suppose one benefit to having a Board that’s as full of clowns and losers as this one is that there’s a lot of upside and very little risk in an election like this. The potential is there for the SBOE of 2011 to be a vast improvement over the SBOE of 2009. So go take a look at the list of candidates, and see who you can help to make that happen this March and November. The Trib has more.

Strengths and weaknesses fails

That’s the good news.

San Antonio’s Ken Mercer, part of the board’s seven-member social conservative bloc, tried to put the much-debated “strengths and weaknesses” language back into the state’s science standards that guide the content of textbooks and curriculum. Mercer’s amendment to a final draft of the science standards would have required science teachers to discuss the so-called weaknesses of evolutionary theory in their science classes.

A few minutes ago, Mercer’s amendment failed by one vote (the tally was 7-7).

Corpus Christi’s Mary Helen Berlanga missed this morning’s vote, though she isn’t one of the board’s social conservatives and would be expected to vote against the strengths weaknesses language.

The board will take a final vote on the science standards tomorrow.

Unless one of the other members has a last-minute change of heart, it appears the strengths and weaknesses language won’t be included in the new science standards. That would be a huge victory for the pro-evolution side.

That’s very good news, as it avoids Texas becoming a national laughingstock for the time being. This sort of thing never truly goes away, of course, so we can never let up. Unelecting some of the troglodtyes on the Board would make the job a lot easier. One such possible target is Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who is at best wishy-washy on a lot of science issues, and who might be easier to take out in a primary than any of the Republicans in a general election. Keep an eye on him.

The bad news is that some other petty little odious amendments did make it through. I haven’t followed this closely enough to tell you about it, but there are plenty of others who have, so for more information than you could possibly need, here’s where to go:

TFN‘s exhaustive liveblogs – one, two, three, four.

Vince’s liveblog from today.

Thoughts from Kansas, another busy liveblogger. Too many posts to recount – try their creationism archives for an overview.

Martha on Twitter – you might also search for the #txsboe hashtag. Martha also testified before the committee.

On balance, I’d call it a good week for science, though between this and the stem cell skulduggery, I wouldn’t say it was good by that much.

UPDATE: The TFN summarizes:

OK, we’ve had a little time to digest all that went on today at the Texas State Board of Education. Without going through each of the many amendments that passed, here’s essentially what happened. This morning the board slammed the door on bringing creationism into classrooms through phony “weaknesses” arguments. But then board members turned around and threw open all the windows to pseudoscientific nonsense attacking core concepts like common descent and natural selection.

The amendments approved today are very problematic, regardless of the important victory over “strengths and weaknesses.” We anticipate that all 15 board members will be participating tomorrow, however, including a pro-science member who was absent today. So there is still time to reverse course.

Tomorrow, with the final vote, the board has a serious decision to make: is the science education of the next generation of Texas schoolchildren going to be based on fact-based, 21st-century science or on the personal beliefs of board members promoting phony arguments and pseudoscience?

You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at [email protected] Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

Like I said, it could have been a lot worse. But it could still be a lot better.

UPDATE: Dave Mann thinks the picture is bleaker.

The seven social conservatives on the 15-member board mostly got their way this afternoon. They passed a series of minor amendments that, with a slight word change here and there, diluted the state’s science standards and the teaching of evolutionary theory. Critics say these proposals open loopholes in the standards for the teaching of unscientific theories espoused by religious conservatives. (The same approach was tried, quite successfully, at the board’s meeting in January.)

[…]

The change in fortunes occurred largely because of Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who voted against the social conservatives in the morning and mostly with them in the afternoon. Agosto is viewed as the key swing vote on the board. He voted against the “strengths and weaknesses” language in January and again this morning, despite fierce lobbying from religious groups in his district.

Agosto wasn’t alone. Several other pro-evolution board members voted with the social conservatives’ this afternoon.

The board will take its final vote on the science standards, which will set content of classes and textbooks for years to come, tomorrow. The board can add in or take out language up until final passage.

So one last fight is likely tomorrow.

Remember the name Rick Agosto. The fight next year has to be in March as well.