We’ve done well, but we can still do better

The defeat of wingnut candidate Brian Russell, who was backed by departing SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar to succeed her, in the GOP runoff this week is unquestionably good news that will help de-loonify that dysfunctional body. I’m as glad as anyone to see Marsha Farney be the GOP nominee in that race. But let’s be clear that while Farney is a step up from Dunbar and Russell, we shouldn’t expect too much from her.

Farney, of Georgetown, now faces a strong challenge from Austin Democrat Judy Jennings in November.

The two candidates seem strangely similar at first glance: women with doctorates in education whose children attended public schools.

Both also discuss the need for board members to respect teachers as they adopt curriculum standards and textbooks.

They could, however, land on very different sides of the ideological divide that has recently defined the 15-member board. It is sharply split between a tightly knit conservative bloc and a more moderate — and less predictable — group.

Jennings said she was the “only candidate who has consistently advocated for taking the politics out of the State Board of Education, out of the curriculum and the textbook approval process.”


Farney has resisted others’ efforts to assign her a label and said she will be a predominantly conservative voice who aligns herself with the people of her district rather than a board faction.

Jennings’ consultant, however, said Farney tacked far to the right in the runoff as she tried to out-conservative Russell, the favorite of incumbent Cynthia Dunbar and other conservatives on the board.

“That does not inspire confidence in me that she is going to get on the board and stand up to the bloc of zealots,” said consultant Alfred Stanley . “People cannot assume and project upon Marsha Farney what they want to see.”

The Texas Freedom Network, while expressing its happiness at Russell’s defeat, remains wary of Farney.

Farney’s campaign hardly made her look like a moderate. She trumpeted her anti-abortion views as well as her opposition to same-sex marriage — two issues that have nothing to do with the state board. Of course, the religious right took control of the state board over the years by running vicious election campaigns attacking opponents for allegedly wanting to teach students about masturbation and gay sex, distribute condoms and other contraception to kids, promote abortion and other nonsense. So perhaps Farney’s strategy was to inoculate herself against similar attacks and reassure social conservatives that she was a safe vote. In any case, it’s hard to know at this point whether she will align with the board’s far-right faction.

It was Rebecca Osborne, who finished third in the March race, who positioned herself as the moderate choice. Now that Farney has to run against a Democrat in a district that’s mighty purple in November – in 2008, Barack Obama got 48.4% of the vote in SBOE10, and in 2006, Bill Moody got 49.8% – she may try to do the same. If so, that’s all to the good. The difference, of course, is that with Judy Jennings, you’ve got someone who doesn’t have to pivot to present herself as moderate and sensible. Farney’s a better choice than Russell, but Jennings is better than Farney. Why settle for less?

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2 Responses to We’ve done well, but we can still do better

  1. Dave Mundy says:

    If knowledge is good, then why would you use the ill-named Texas “Freedom” Network as a reliable source of information? They’re as far off the left end of the spectrum as you accuse Russell of being on the right.
    Right, left or center, the problem with public education in Texas is not the state board of education: it’s the social engineers who make up the Texas Education Agency and the National Education Association. Every few years they come up with a new round of “education reform” which gets progressively more expensive — and doesn’t work.They then complain that there’s just not enough money being poured into education, and when the politicians pour the money in, the social engineers take the same tired programs, re-name them and re-package them, and introduce them as the latest innovation. The Common Core Standards being touted as a new national curriculum are the same affective, touchy-feely mush first introduced in the 1970s as “Outcome-Based Education” — and, like OBE’s various incarnations over the years, will only serve to make students dumber and education “experts” richer.

  2. Kuff: If your readers will click on my name in order to view the link I’ve attached, they’ll see what I meant by “tacked too far to the right.” The attack mail piece that Marsha Farney sent out concerning her primary opponent is what I had in mind when I said, ““People cannot assume and project upon Marsha Farney what they want to see.” (I should have said “shouldn’t” rather than “cannot.”) Those sanguine in the thought that the Farney victory is yet another in a series of setbacks for the overzealous bloc probably haven’t seen this mail piece yet.

    In it, Dr. Farney likens Russell with President Obama calling Russell “another grassroots organizer with no experience” who “like Obama, lacks an ethical compass,” has “Obama-like secrets,” and uses “Obama-style intimidation tactics.” (Really?)

    How can Dr. Farney credibly claim to want to align herself with the voters of the district when over 48% of them voted for President Obama (and presumably not everyone who voted for Senator McCain is drinking from the bottle of Kool-Aid that causes one to believe that our president lacks a moral compass, has deep, dark secrets and is an intimidator.)

    As the author of the lucky13global blog says (April 9 entry), “I agree that Texas school children don’t deserve Brian Russell. After reading this latest mailer, I’m thinking they really deserve a lot better than Marsha Farney, too … I’m going to vote for Judy Jennings, the Democrat in the SBOE-10 race, in November.” This from a Republican primary voter who had originally planned to vote for Dr. Farney in the runoff.

    McLeroy defeated by the reasonable Tom Ratliff … progress; Democrat Rick Agosto who traded votes with the ideologues being replaced by Professor Mike Soto of Trinity … progress; Tincy Miller who voted straight down the line with the ideologues on the social studies curriculum losing unexpectedly to teacher George Clayton … hopefully progress; Marsha Farney beating Brian Russell and being willing to vilify the President in the process … that requires a leap of faith that “she didn’t really mean it,” and where does that leave us?

    District 10 is a swing district that leans Republican but has been trending Democratic. There’s no reason why we can’t win it with Dr. Judy Jennings, a well-qualified educator who is unfailingly thoughtful and temperate in word and deed. To bring some balance and moderation to the board, we need to turn out the Democratic vote and to persuade independents and moderate Republicans who truly care about public education to vote for Dr. Judy Jennings.

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