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Bob Craig

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.

Berlanga and Craig to retire from SBOE, Ames Jones changes Senate races

This could be bad news.

Longtime State Board of Education members Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said they will not run for re-election in 2012.

First elected in 1982, Berlanga said 30 years on the board was enough, particularly given the recent ideological battles over history and science.

“It’s time for fresh, new blood to get involved,” she said.

Craig, a lawyer and former Lubbock school board member, was first elected to the state board in 2002.

Both consistently voted with a bipartisan bloc of the board during recent contentious adoptions over textbook and curriculum standards.

Craig leaving is potentially bad news because he was definitely in the moderate Republican bloc on the SBOE. He’s endorsed a successor, which may help hold his seat for the forces of sanity, but you hate to have to hope for the best in a Republican primary in what’s already proven to be a fever swamp year. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a bad feeling about this.

Berlanga’s departure is potentially bad news because hers is a swing district that could very well be lost if the Dems nominate a bad candidate or the Rs pick a good one. If the Dems manage to fumble what should be a strong pickup opportunity in SBOE1, which was taken over by an R in what is actually a bluer district than Berlanga’s SBOE2, we could be staring at a 12-3 split on the board. That’s not something I’d like to contemplate. Burka has more.

Meanwhile, Robert Miller was first to report that a third “contender” for the open US Senate seat in 2012 has woken up and smelled the coffee.

Railroad Commission Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones has decided to run for Texas Senate District 25, which is currently held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth. Jones began making calls to San Antonio supporters late last week gauging support for the race, and on Friday called Sen. Wentworth to advise him that she was running.

Jones previously was seeking election to the U. S. Senate, and as of September 30, 2011, reported $304,067 in cash on hand. She will be able to transfer all of those funds to her state race.

Jones represented San Antonio in the Texas House from 2001 until Gov. Perry appointed her to the Railroad Commission in 2005. Speaker Joe Straus subsequently won the special election in February 2005 succeeding Jones in HD 121. Jones’ San Antonio ties are wide and deep, and she will be a formidable competitor to Sen. Wentworth. Dr. Donna Campbell has recently moved into SD 25 and is also in the race.

I’m hard pressed to think of anything Ames Jones has done other than be in the right place at the right time. Her Senate campaign had all the traction of tube socks on a freshly waxed floor, but she thinks she can win by being the bigger wingnut, and I can’t say she’s wrong about that, though I hope she is. The Senate and the SBOE both have the potential to be a lot less functional after this election.

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.

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 best way to fix a mistake is to avoid making it in the first place

In re: the fight over social studies now brewing in the State Board of Education, the problem is described as follows.

About 75 teachers, principals, social studies coordinators, college professors, retired teachers and ordinary citizens are developing the new curriculum standards. The so-called “writing teams” are taking guidance from six expert reviewers appointed by the board. The group’s first draft is expected to be finished before the board’s September meeting. Public hearings will follow before the board acts next spring.

But some of the expert recommendations are already stirring controversy, suggesting for example that biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin should not be included in books for early grade-school children. And some of the experts want to emphasize the role of the Bible and the Christian faith in the settling of the original colonies.

The suggestions also are attracting the attention of the national media, which lampooned Texas earlier this year when the board struggled with the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In an article earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that two of the expert reviewers appointed by the socially conservative state board members have strong Christian perspectives.

David Barton is founder of WallBuilders, which pushes America’s Christian heritage. Another expert reviewer is the Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality.

Board members said Thurs day they are optimistic they will avoid repeating the rankling that brought attention to the debate over new science curriculum standards. The TFN has more.

“I don’t see at all that we will divide into factions,” said new board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, said of the task: “It’s very difficult. It’s very emotional. I hope we would keep it factual.”

It would have helped if the “experts” hired to do the initial review had all been, you know, actual experts on the subject matter and had not included a couple of fringe wingnuts who want to push their bizarre worldview at the expense of genuine scholarship. Given that that ship has sailed, the only sensible thing to do now is to admit the mistake, throw out everything the current review panel has done, find a group of honest academicians to do a serious job of it, and apologize profusely to the people and especially the students of Texas for having wasted their time and insulted their intelligence. Needless to say, I do not expect this to happen. Good luck making something productive happen now.

Senate spikes McLeroy

Good for them.

The Texas Senate on Thursday refused to confirm Don McLeroy as State Board of Education chairman after an impassioned floor debate.

The 19 to 11 party-line vote was not enough to get McLeroy across the required two-thirds threshold. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, abstained from the vote.

McLeroy, a Republican from Bryan, was first elected to the board in 1998 and will remain in that position.

But Gov. Rick Perry will now need to appoint another leader from the 15-member board. Critics said McLeroy’s nearly two-year tenure as chairman has been dysfunctional and divisive.

I know I said that I’d give any Dem a pass on this one if they thought they needed to confirm him. I’m glad they didn’t take me up on that. If Rick Perry does appoint someone decent like Bob Craig, it’s a win all around. And if he goes full metal wingnut and gives us Cynthia Dunbar, well, I’ll look forward to the 2010 campaign that much more. TFN, which led the way on this one, has a full accounting of the proceedings and a statement on the outcome. Elise and Kilday Hart have more.