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Rick Agosto

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.

Let’s make this a bad year for Don McLeroy

Don McLeroy is a wee bit concerned about losing one of his allies on the SBOE.

State Board of Education former Chair (and current member) Don McLeroy wasn’t too concerned about losing Democratic swing-vote Rick Agosto. At least not at first.

“The big impact will be if I depart,” McLeroy said over the phone.

[…]

But an hour later, McLeroy called back with some different news. Agosto’s abstention on the math book, which McLeroy dismissed initially, was actually essential, he said. “We never could have done that without him,” McLeroy said in a voice message.

“He did a lot of thinking on his own,” McLeroy explained in the recording. “He was not a rubber stamp for anybody.” For those unfamiliar with McLeroy, not being a rubber stamp is high praise.

Why the change? Perhaps McLeroy realized the danger the conservatives on the board would face without Agosto.

If that’s not a good reason to be happy about Agosto’s departure and get behind the candidacy of Michael Soto, I don’t know what would be. Even better is the news that State Rep. Brian McCall is endorsing McLeroy’s primary opponent, Thomas Ratliff. And we’ve got some good Democratic candidates lining up to take aim at some of McLeroy’s other buddies. If we can make 2010 a bad year for Don McLeroy, it will be a very good year for Texas and all of its students.

Hopson switches, Agosto drops out

Two pieces of news for the 2010 cycle, one good and one not good. For the latter first, State Rep. Chuck Hopson, who won a very tight race for re-election in 2008, has announced that he will run in 2010 as a Republican.

A press release from Hopson’s campaign said he thinks President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats do not represent the concerns and values of his East Texas district. Hopson is scheduled to hold a press conference on his switch later this afternoon.

In 2008, Hopson won re-election by 114 votes. He likely would have faced even more difficulty in 2010, considering that Democrats have lost some of their momentum from the 2008 election.

“It takes strength and integrity to stand against the special interests — and while some members have that strength, others, like Chuck Hopson, do not,” said state Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie.

Richie said Hopson had told Democratic members that he’d rather retire from the House than become a Republican.

A letter from House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, which is more cordial to Hopson, is beneath the fold. It’s certainly true that as suburban Texas is becoming more Democratic, rural Texas is becoming more Republican, and Hopson likely read the same tea leaves that formerly-Republican State Rep. Kirk England did back in 2007. I’ll certainly take that trade demographically, but in the short run this is a blow to the Democrats’ chances of retaking the House, as was Rep. David Farabee’s retirement. At least we’re not still trying to get rid of Tom Craddick as Speaker. Greg and Phillip, who once worked for Hopson, have more.

On the better side, SBOE member Rick Agosto, a Democrat who was way too close to the wingnut faction of the Board, is not running for re-election.

Trinity University literature professor Michael Soto, 39, announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination for District 3, which stretches from San Antonio south to the border.

And several top Democratic Party leaders from San Antonio, including state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former State Board of Education member Joe Bernal, are backing Soto.

Agosto, who was first elected in 2006, said he needs to spend more time with his family and investment business.

“I’ve enjoyed my time there,” but being a state board member basically can be a full-time job, Agosto said.

Agosto has been the subject of several recent newspaper stories about business relationships with companies vying for contracts with the board.

He has denied any wrongdoing and atrributes the criticism to political back-biting on the board.

Agosto said his re-election decision is not related to this scrutiny.

Good riddance, and Agosto will hopefully be one of many bad SBOE incumbents to be back in the private sector after next year. Read more about Soto here. I look forward to hearing more about him and his campaign.

(more…)

The SBOE is more than just a clown show

The clown show part we know about, but the State Board of Education is also responsible for managing the state’s $20 billion Permanent School Fund, and as they politicize scholastic issues it seems politics may be playing a role in that important function, which was nearly taken away from them this year, as well. Read this twopart report from the Texas Freedom Network for the details. Note the name Rick Agosto, the San Antonio Democrat who is a little too cozy with the wingnut faction. Does he have a primary opponent yet?

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.