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Don McLeroy

Still a “no” on Whitley

As it should be.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Senate Democrats still pledge to block the confirmation of embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, even as a top Texas law enforcement official is taking blame for major errors in a list of suspected non-citizen voters.

“I take full responsibility as the leader of the Department of Public Safety,” Steven McCraw told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee this week. Had the department assigned a “senior level person” to the project, he said, it wouldn’t have turned over bad data that included thousands of people who had already proven their citizenship.

“I can tell you throughout the entire project, the secretary was not involved in any of it because he wasn’t there at the time,” McCraw said.

The mea culpa, however, is being met with skepticism from county election officials, who first identified mistakes in the state list, and from Senate Democrats, who still fault Whitley. He had been on the job about six weeks before launching the attempted purge.

“Ultimately he’s responsible, because he is the secretary of state,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Thursday. “I still think he’s a fine gentleman, he just made the wrong decision.”

[…]

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said McCraw’s statement this week didn’t change his mind.

“I don’t know that changed anybody’s mind,” Whitmire said. “The harm has been done.”

The Democrats’ resistance is a rare show of force from the minority party this early in the legislative session, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. Abbott’s nominees don’t usually meet much pushback from the upper chamber.

“I can’t remember ever having someone this controversial in my 29 years in the Senate,” Lucio said.

See here and here for some background. All due respect to Sen. Lucio, but I’d argue that the David Bradley and Don McLeroy fiascoes were on par with this one. Be that as it may, the Abbott-McCraw blame-passing pas-de-duex doesn’t pass the smell test.

State Elections Director Keith Ingram acknowledged in federal court that the secretary of state’s office knew ahead of time that issue might pose some problems with the list. Some 50,000 people are naturalized each year in Texas.

“I don’t see why DPS is taking responsibility, other than it’s convenient for the Department of Public Safety to take the fall, rather than the secretary of state,” said Special Assistant Harris County Attorney Douglas Ray, who has said DPS data is notoriously unreliable.

Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis questioned why the secretary of state’s office didn’t spot the errors that were quickly evident to county officials.

“The secretary of state had a duty to vet this information,” said Davis, who is president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. “So much of this could have been avoided had they done so.”

“I apologize to all of the voters whose citizenship was called into question by this advisory. In our effort to protect the integrity of our voter registration system, my office acted in haste to verify the rolls, and in doing so created unnecessary problems for county officials and many voters. I take responsibility for this, and I promise to take every step to improve and optimize our processes to achieve our goal of ensuring that elections are protected and all eligible citizens have the opportunity to vote.” See how easy that was? If David Whitley had said something like that at the beginning, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. He’d have been confirmed, and we’d be obsessing about something else. Why hasn’t Whitley taken responsibility for his actions, and why does Greg Abbott insist on coddling him in this fashion?

The Whitley hearing

Not a great day at the office for our Secretary of State and his advisory-ing ways.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Almost two weeks after calling into question the citizenship status of almost 100,000 registered voters, Texas’ new chief elections officer, David Whitley, defended his office’s decision to hand over those voters’ names to law enforcement around the same time his office was also acknowledging to local election officials that the list of names could contain mistakes.

At a Senate hearing to consider his confirmation as secretary of state, Whitley vacillated between telling lawmakers he referred the list of voters to the attorney general’s office because his office had no power to investigate them for illegal voting and describing the citizenship review efforts as an ongoing process based on a list that still needed to be reviewed by local officials. But he made clear is that his office knew from the start that the data could be faulty.

He stated that in response to a question from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, who asked whether the secretary of state’s office had “cautioned the counties that there may be mistakes on the data.”

“Yes,” Whitley responded.

But when he was pressed by Democrats over his decision to send the list to the statewide office that handles criminal voter fraud prosecutions before the list was fully vetted, Whitley responded he wanted to get the data “in the hands of someone who could do something with it,” given that the secretary of state’s office had no power to investigate. That prompted follow-up questions about whether he should have waited until the list was scrubbed by local election officials, and Whitley doubled down with his defense, despite describing the data as “preliminary.”

“I can tell you senator that 100 percent my reason for transmitting this data to the attorney general’s office was to ensure that these lists were as accurate as possible,” Whitley said to state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Sitting before senators in a packed committee room, Whitley faced blistering questions from Democrats for the better part of two hours. After brief opening remarks in which he touted his long career as a public servant, he somberly defended the controversial citizenship review efforts he ordered. But at times he struggled to answer technical questions about the flawed data at the heart of it.

At one point, Watson asked Whitley whether he’d consider asking the attorney general to hold off on investigating voters until the list was cleaned up. Whitley responded it was a “reasonable request” but said he was unsure “that it’s appropriate coming from my office.”

“You were the one who made the referral and blasted it all over the state,” Watson said.

See here for the background. It goes from there, and it never gets any better for Whitley, who mostly comes across as unprepared. As discussed, he will need a two-thirds vote of the Senate to be confirmed, and right now he doesn’t look to be on track to win over any Democrats, from whom he will need at least one vote to clear the bar. As I understand it, if he does not get confirmed, he will serve till the end of the legislative session, then Abbott will have to name someone else. The last time I can recall such an appointment getting scuttled was in 2011, when we had the fortunately-doomed nomination of David Bradley to the Forensic Sciences Commission. Before that was the 2009 nomination of Don McLeroy as Chair of the SBOE. I don’t care who you are in Texas politics, those are not names you want to be associated with.

Anyway. It’s still early to say what will happen for sure, but David Whitley didn’t win anyone over yesterday. See Progress Texas’ Twitter feed for in-the-moment coverage, and the Chron editorial board, which calls for Whitley to be rejected, has more.

Trib overview of SBOE races

As always, there’s a lot of action in these low profile races.

Among the contenders in the races to replace Republican Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Democrat Martha Dominguez of El Paso is a 68-year-old East Texas retiree who has said that President Obama used to be a prostitute and a 41-year-old self-described “MeXicana Empowerment Specialist” who says the board’s Democrats have sat silent for far too long.

Both Republican Mary Lou Bruner, of Mineola, and Democrat Georgina Cecilia Perez, of El Paso, taught in public schools for years. That’s one of the few things they have in common, along with a clear passion for their respective causes. Observers and political scientists say both women have emerged as strong contenders in their separate races and could easily claim victory in the March 1 primary, an outcome that could mean the return of a more quarrelsome board.

DISTRICT 9

Bruner, who has won endorsements from influential movement conservatives like Cathie Adams and JoAnn Fleming, is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination to replace Ratliff in representing District 9, a 31-county swath that spans the northeast quadrant of the state.

But it’s Bruner’s voluminous Facebook posts, not her endorsements, that have generated the most buzz in the race. A majority of them echo the kind of anti-Muslim, anti-gay or anti-science opinions commonly spouted by members at education board meetings of yore, but observers — and detractors — say she takes it to a whole other level.

“Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties,” Bruner said last October in a now-deleted post on the wall of her personal Facebook page, where she also has posted campaign materials and solicited votes.

Bruner, who worked for 36 years in East Texas schools as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician, said she stands by all her posts but deletes the ones she comes to learn are inaccurate and also publicly apologizes.

“I’m not ashamed of anything that I have ever said,” Bruner said, noting she plans to bring to same zeal to the state board, speaking her mind even if she’s outvoted. “If I’m on the State Board of Education, I’m going to speak up for the things that I believe because I have a First Amendment right.”

The Tribune could not, however, locate a public apology for that post on Obama, which Bruner has since deleted from her Facebook page. Asked specifically about the post and whether she still believes the president used to be a gay prostitute, Bruner said: “You are obviously a hostile and biased reporter pretending to be a friendly reporter to gain my confidence. The interview is over.”

[…]

DISTRICT 1

Much like Bruner, Perez, a 41-year-old mother of four, also vows to bring “a very strong voice” to Austin. The former 8th grade language arts teacher contends the board’s five Democrats are “far too silent most of the time” — often sidelined as the board’s moderate and social conservatives dominate the debate.

Perez, who retired from teaching a year ago and now is seeking a doctorate in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, targets the education panels’ far-right Republicans prominently on her website.

“The SBOE is an important entity that has been hijacked by extremists that are more concerned with advancing an ultra-conservative agenda and rewriting textbooks than they have been overseeing the education of Texas youth,” reads a quote on the homepage.

But Perez, who has won endorsements from fellow El Paso Democrats Sen. José Rodriguez and Rep. Mary González, also dismisses any concerns that she might not play well with others. She points to her work last year crafting a proclamation that the education board ended up approving in a 12-2 vote supporting the implementation of ethnic studies courses.

“It was my presentation and my research and my testimony that brought them on board with how this closes the achievement gap,” Perez said. “In the past, the SBOE has been known for, perhaps, uncivil discourse, but that has not been my experience up there.”

Bruner of course has drawn national attention for her repugnant statements; as is usually the case, the Texas Freedom Network is your best source of information for this brand of crazy. She’s very much the face of the Texas Republican Party these days. She has a sane, Ratliff-esque opponent in Keven Ellis, and I suppose the question is whether the people that elected Don McLeroy or the people that ousted him in favor of Thomas Ratliff will show up for that race. Lord knows, the state GOP deserves her, but the schoolchildren of Texas do not.

As for Georgina Perez, it’s lazy and irresponsible of the Trib to draw a parallel between her and Bruner, even of the rest of their writing makes it clear that outside of a willingness to mix it up the two are completely different. One of these two will be a laughingstock, and it ain’t Georgina Perez. One of her opponents is a recipient of money from the astroturf group Texans for Education Reform, so I’ll be rooting for Ms. Perez on March 1.

And there’s also our local race:

DISTRICT 6

[…]

Two of the Democrats seeking the District 6 nomination — Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter — criticized [incumbent Donna] Bahorich, as well as each other, for lack of experience and predicted their own passionate campaigning will push them to victory.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston who said he is “the only person running in the primary or the general election who understands how kids develop, at what ages they should be learning different subjects.”

The Panhandle native expects to receive his doctorate in education next year from the University of Houston, with a focus on curriculum instruction and leadership.

Jenkins, 32, also has a doctorate in education but says her experience teaching bilingual 4th grade in the Houston area for two years may be more important to voters.

“Being well educated doesn’t make someone an educator,” said Jenkins, who now is the manager of community-based initiatives at Advantage Testing of Houston.

“I hope that people will really recognize that and put these decisions in the hands of experienced educators.”

I interviewed Dakota Carter, and apparently got door-knocked by Jasmine Jenkins, but wasn’t home for it. Either one would be fine by me (there’s a third candidate who’s been invisible so far), but Bahorich got 57.1% in 2012, which was enough to win by over 100,000 votes. I’ll be happy if we can know that down a point or two – for sure, if we do, we’ve probably done pretty well countywide, too.

Maybe Ratliff won’t step down from the SBOE after all

Just when he thought he was out, they (might) pull him back in.

Thomas Ratliff

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a social conservative and former staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday.

Donna Bahorich will lead the 15-member board, whose duties include setting curriculum standards and approving the textbooks used by the state’s more than five million schoolchildren.

Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has served on the board since January 2013. She sat on the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees issues related to charter schools, the Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases. She is also a member of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

As chairwoman, Bahorich will set the agenda for the state education board’s meetings, which occur five to six times a year.

Bahorich, who usually votes with the board’s social conservative bloc, has close ties to Patrick. She was his campaign manager during his first run for the state senate seat in 2006. After that, she served on Patrick’s staff in varying roles including district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich’s appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job.

“She’s a nice lady and a hard worker and I think her heart’s in the right place,” Ratliff said. “I just think it ought to be a fundamental requirement on the state board for someone to have had kids in public school.”

Ratliff said he’s now rethinking his decision to leave the board when his current term expires in 2017.

“That’s no longer a guarantee that my days on the board are done,” he said. “I may have more work to do.”

See here for the background on Ratliff. Whether he decides to run for re-election to the SBOE or takes a crack at Kevin Eltife’s Senate seat, either would be fine by me. I hope this is for real and not just a tease.

As for Bahorich, she’s hardly the person I’d want chairing the SBOE, but the bar for “could be worse” with this group is pretty damn low. Not being a McLeroy-esque catastrophe counts as a job well done. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

Fraser and Ratliff to step down

There’s good news:

Sen. Troy Fraser

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, announced Tuesday that he is not running for re-election, ending a tenure at the Capitol that has spanned four decades.

“There comes a time when leaders must take a look at the trail they have blazed and reflect on all they have done,” Fraser wrote in a letter to colleagues and friends. “There also comes a time when leaders must allow others the opportunity to leave their mark. Today marks that time for me.”

Fraser, who chaired the Natural Resources Committee this past session, was the seventh-most senior member of the Senate, having taken office in January 1997. From 1988 to 1993, he served in the House.

[…]

He said his “proudest accomplishment” was passing Texas’ voter ID law in 2011, considered the toughest in the nation. A legal challenge to the statute is still working its way through federal courts.

That last paragraph sums up why this is good news, as Fraser had his fingerprints on a ton of bad legislation, with not much good to balance it out. The district is solidly Republican – as Greg commented, it envelops all of Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s House district – but Fraser is bad enough to have some hope that whoever replaces him might be at least a little better. No guarantees of course – it can always be worse, and it’s never comfortable having to hope for a good outcome in a Republican primary – but there is plenty of room to go up.

And there’s bad news:

Thomas Ratliff

State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff has decided not to seek another term on the board next year, saying he has accomplished most of his goals. Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who has been on the board since 2011, has generally received high marks during his tenure.

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, made news back in 2010 when he upset former board Chairman Don McLeroy of College Station in the GOP primary that year. McLeroy was the leader of the social conservative bloc on the education board and drew national attention for his efforts to limit coverage of evolution in science textbooks.

When he ran for the seat, which now represents northeast Texas, Ratliff said he wanted to reduce the influence of partisan politics on the board and improve the strained relationship between the board and the Legislature. At the time, there was support among lawmakers for scaling back the authority of the board.

“I feel these goals have been largely accomplished through a combination of my efforts, the efforts of several of my colleagues and voters across the state,” he said, adding he will serve out the final year and a half of his current term.

Being the candidate who sent the infamous Do McLeroy back to private life, Ratliff is Exhibit A for “best possible outcome in a GOP primary in deep red turf”. We can only hope that his successor is like him and not like the man he ousted.

Finally, some poignant news:

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

One of the best speeches of this year’s legislative session also was one of the more difficult to watch.

It came in the closing days as the House OK’d a bill addressing one of the Great State of Texas’ greatest disgraces. HB 48, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed Monday, sets up a state panel to figure out how wrongful convictions happen and how to avoid them. All together now: “About time.”

Approval culminated a persistent battle by a lawmaker now fighting a personal one – one that reminds us of the better side of our lawmakers. The more shrill partisans among us could learn something from the friendships and respect that develops when 182 people of varying philosophies and backgrounds spend 140 days in relatively close quarters at the Capitol in odd-numbered years.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,'” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

I knew Rep. McClendon had been ill for some time, but I hadn’t realized just how tough for her this session must have been. I don’t know if her health will impel her to step down or not, but if it does, she finished her career on a high note with the passage of innocence commission bill. That bill should have rightfully passed in 2013, but it was derailed by the egotistical gamesmanship of Sen. Joan Huffman. Thankfully, Sen. Huffman managed to put a lid on it this time.

I’ve seen a few snarky Facebook posts since sine die by folks who are playing at the “disaffected cool kid who’s just so over all this stuff” thing. I get the frustration – it’s definitely been a rough 12 months, with less reason to feel optimistic about the near term political future around here – and Lord knows I’m not above cynicism. Dems did their share of puzzling and dispiriting things this session, most notably on the Denton anti-fracking ban bill. But it’s people like Rep. McClendon and what they are able to accomplish out of the spotlight and against sizable obstacles, that are what it’s about to me. I think we lose something fundamental if we lose sight of that. I know it’s hard having to play defense all the time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still chances to move the ball forward here and there. Thank you, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, for all you do.

Standing up for science

Sure hope it did some good.

A past Texas State Board of Education chairman and outspoken creationist urged his former colleagues on Tuesday to approve high school biology textbooks he said would “strike a final blow to the teaching of evolution.”

Appearing at a board hearing on new instructional materials, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who lost his seat on the SBOE in the 2010 Republican primary, told board members that the science textbooks currently under consideration contained many “hidden gems just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students” that proved there was no evidence for evolution.

McLeroy’s testimony diverged from other witnesses skeptical of evolution, who criticized the proposed textbooks for inadequate coverage of alternatives to the scientific theory and asked the board not to approve them until publishers made changes.

[…]

The 15-member SBOE won’t vote on the 14 science textbooks currently under consideration until November. Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board would also discuss revising the state’s textbook approval process, which science education advocates have criticized for allegedly lacking transparency and including unqualified reviewers.

Cargill herself has drawn accusations of improper involvement in the review process from the Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors religious influence in public schools, after reports that she encouraged creationists on the panels. Cargill said she only attended the meetings to thank volunteers for their work reviewing the texts.

State panels have been reviewing sample instructional materials since April. The panels, which are assembled by SBOE members, have included several prominent creationists and evolution skeptics, as well as others without a background in education or science. Their preliminary proposed changes obtained by the Texas Freedom Network pushed for the inclusion of more arguments critical of evolution.

[…]

Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, three SBOE members — Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville; Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio; and Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso — expressed their disappointment with the process at a rally organized by the Texas Freedom Network. They said that publishers were being pressured into including non-science based arguments against evolution and called for only “content-relevant educators” to be included on review panels.

Cargill said during the hearing that she had asked publishers to voluntarily disclose for public review any changes they made to textbooks prior to their adoption. She also emphasized that any reports made by review teams were preliminary — and that in November, the board would take up suggestions about how to improve the process.

“I’m very appreciative of the reviewers themselves,” she said. “But we’ve got some work to do.”

Just as Rick Perry works to keep Texas sick, so does Don McLeroy work to keep Texas ignorant. TFN Insider liveblogged the hearing, and also provided some extra background. What happens from here I don’t know, but as always it would be a good idea to stay engaged, and to keep an eye on the November hearing. Finally, kudos to new SBOE members Cortez, Perez, and Dominguez for their involvement. Perez and Dominguez gave us some moments of uncertainty last year, but so far they’ve exceeded my expectations on the board. Eileen Smith and the Stand Up for Science Tumblr have more.

Three primary stories

TX Trib: 4 Democrats Vying to Replace Hochberg in HD-137

Observers say the winner of the contest for HD-137 is likely to be decided in the Democratic primary, whose four candidates are former Capitol staffers Joseph Carlos Madden and Jamaal Smith, Harris County prosecutor Gene Wu and Alief Independent School District board member Sarah Winkler.

“It’s a [minority-opportunity] district,” [HCDP Chair Lane] Lewis said. “People from all around the world are attracted to the district when they move to Houston. I’ve heard some people refer to it as the United Nations of Harris County.”

Only one Republican candidate, former Houston City Councilman M.J. Khan, is running for the seat. Several Democratic candidates said Khan’s name recognition could make him an opponent to be reckoned with in the general election. Khan has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Khan and the Harris County Republican Party did not return interview requests.

The Trib has done a number of stories about races like this, and they’ve done a good job of it. As they have done in other such articles, they manage to talk to all of the candidates and actually tell you something about them. It’s the mention of Republican candidate Khan that piqued my interest. As the story notes, he could be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning but not rock solid district; in addition to the other factors cited, Khan could write his own check for the race and easily outspend whichever Dem wins the nomination. Yet so far at least he’s been completely disengaged. Maybe he’s just biding his time on the not-unreasonable theory that no one is really paying any attention right now, but I can’t escape the feeling that being a state legislator is not something MJ Khan has a burning desire to do. I understood his candidacy for City Controller – for sure, if he has it in his head to be Mayor some day, that’s a good way to go about it – but I never got the impression that state issues were a driving force for him. I could be wrong, and if someone out there knows better I’d love to hear from you, but I get kind of a Joe Agris 2008 vibe from him.

TX Trib: Two SBOE Rivals Each Facing Tough Primaries

Two influential incumbents on the State Board of Education — who are often at odds with each other — are both facing primary challenges that could result in a power shift on the fractious board.

Thomas Ratliff won a spot on the board after a 402-vote victory in the 2010 GOP primary over Don McLeroy, who brought international attention to the state with his spirited defense of creationism. Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant native who campaigned on a platform of taking politics out of education, has become one of the Republican-controlled board’s reliably moderate voices.

He has also been a thorn in the side of David Bradley, widely considered the ringleader of the strictly allied social conservatives who led the board to adopt science standards that required educators to teach “all sides” of evolution in 2009 and pushed for ideologically driven revisions to social studies standards in 2010.

During their time on the board, the two have been on opposing sides of issues like withdrawing money from the $25 billion Permanent School Fund to bridge the state-funding gap for public schools, requiring amendments to curriculum to be laid out at least 24 hours before a vote, and handing more authority to school districts for textbook purchases.

Now they both find themselves entangled in what are likely the board’s two most closely watched primary races.

Another Trib story, which I see as being what that lame Chron story should have been. It’s also a reminder that while the potential is there for the SBOE to become less crazy if the likes of Bradley and Cargill get defenestrated, the potential is also there for the pendulum to swing back hard towards Wackytown if Ratliff loses. TFN Insider has a handy list of the candidates to watch out for. It’s a bit unnerving to have to rely on the sanity of GOP primary voters, but for the SBOE there’s not much choice.

TX Observer: House District 26 – As Fort Bend Goes

HD26 under current interim map

Fort Bend has been called a bellwether county so often that it’s easy to become skeptical about the use of the term—even if the description is accurate.

Fort Bend, which sits just southwest of Houston, is among the most diverse and fast-growing counties in Texas, part of the “Big Five” fast-growing suburban counties along with Collin, Montgomery, Denton and Williamson. It has pleasant subdivisions with genteel names like First Colony and Sugar Creek and an abundance of retail outlets along Highway 6, which barrels through Sugar Land, the heart of state House District 26.

After 16 years, Republican incumbent Charlie Howard is leaving the legislative seat once held by Tom DeLay, long before he became U.S. House majority leader. Four Republicans, including two women of color, are running for the open seat.

[…]

HD26 under original interim map

Democrats hope to claim the county through building coalitions among its United Nations assembly of residents. Republicans are also courting the melting pot. Of the four competitors for the District 26 seat, the people of color are—Sonal Bhuchar, a trustee and former board president of the Fort Bend Independent School District, and Jacquie Chaumette, mayor pro tem of Sugar Land. Bhuchar is originally from India. Chaumette is from St. Croix, the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other candidates are Rick Miller, former chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, and Diana Miller (no relation to Rick Miller), a real estate agent.

Bhuchar and Chaumette have big fundraising hauls and are considered strong contenders in the four-way race. [County GOP Chair Mike] Gibson, not surprisingly, downplays the candidates’ race. “We don’t look at Sonal as South East Asian or Jacquie as Caribbean, but as Americans with strong skill sets that we feel good about running as Republicans,’’ he says.

One thing this article doesn’t talk about is the fact that HD26 is one of the disputed districts in the ongoing redistricting litigation. Plaintiffs claim that districts such as HD26 are protected under the Voting Rights Act as minority coalition districts. In that fashion, a district that is more than 50% minority cannot be retrogressed even if no single racial group has more than a plurality of the population. The state argues that only districts in which a single protected minority is 50% or more does the VRA apply and as such there is no such thing as a protected coalition district; mapmakers are free to slice and dice as they see fit. That was how the Lege treated HD26, which is why it has that bizarre mutant Tetris piece shape, which it retained in the current interim map and which allows it to be a solid red 65% GOP district. In the original interim map, the judges drew a much more compact district that was also near partisan parity – both President Obama and Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston scored a bit over 48% in it. This is one of the questions that the DC court will address in the preclearance lawsuit, whether districts like HD26, SD10, CD25, and CD33 are covered by Section 5. If they rule for the plaintiffs, and if SCOTUS doesn’t come along behind them and gut the VRA, we could see a very different HD26 in two years’ time.

Grading Texas science classes

We get a C.

Texas public school science courses “pay lip service” to critical content and largely ignore evolution in the middle grades, according to a national education foundation study that gives the state of Texas an overall “C” for science education.

The average grade for Texas science curriculum standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a national report card Tuesday represents a step up from the “F” issued for Texas two years ago by the National Center for Science Education.

Texas science curriculum standards are “just too vague,” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, a senior director at Fordham. “They cover a lot of the essential content, but they don’t do it in a way that can actually guide curriculum or guide instruction in the classroom or can guide assessment development.”

It’s also better than the D we got in Social Studies from the Fordham Institute. You can see the Texas report here and a full list of state reports plus their other materials related to this here.

The report offers a mixed review on how Texas teaches evolution. The evolution portion of the new Texas science curriculum standards provoked considerable controversy before the State Board of Education adopted them in 2009.

“In spite of the Texas Board of Education’s erratic approach to evolution, the state’s current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly,” the report says

[…]

“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor,” said board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. “We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”

Former board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, lost his chairmanship, in part, because Senate Democrats believed he injected his strong religious beliefs into the curriculum development and blocked his nomination three years ago.

McLeroy said he was pleased the report described the high school evolution teaching as “exemplary.”

“The report confirms what I have always insisted: that the creationists inserted real scientific rigor into the teaching of evolution,” McLeroy said.

McLeroy is as dishonest as ever. Here’s what the report said about Texas and the teaching of evolution:

Evolution is all but ignored from Kindergarten through fifth grade, save a sentence in the earth and space science section that asks students to “identify fossils as evidence of past living organisms” (grade 5).

The middle school standards are marginally better, but still problematic. For example, seventh graders should learn that:

Populations and species demonstrate variation and inherit many of their unique traits through gradual processes over many generations. (grade 7)

Unfortunately, this is simply wrong. Traits are inherited directly at each generation; there’s nothing gradual about it. Students are then asked to explain variation within a population or species by examining external features that enhance survival. Such examinations will yield no explanation of variation.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the middle school standards, however, is their coverage of evolution. For instance, the seventh-grade standards mention the Galapagos finches, giving the impression that the Darwinian paradigm is being presented. Unfortunately, it is not. Instead, the example of the finch Geospiza fortis apparently refers to studies by Peter and Rosemary Grant on beak size in this species, made widely known by Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Beak of the Finch. Creationists often distort these important findings to argue that Darwinian macroevolution does not occur—instead, microevolution does. In addition, the word “evolution” is never used in any of the middle school standards, and the term “natural selection” is never explained.

In spite of the Texas Board of Education’s erratic approach to evolution, the state’s current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly. There are no concessions to “controversies” or “alternative theories.” In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. Even so, the term “natural selection” appears just three times, as does the word “evolution” and its variants. It is hard to see how Texas students will be able to handle this course, given the insufficient foundations offered prior to high school.

In other words, it’s pretty clear they think McLeroy and his bunch were the problem, not the solution. The more voters that see it that way as well, the better. One Democrat running for the SBOE had some sharp words for his putative colleagues.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science and a longtime critic of the board’s conservatives, said the Fordham analysis overlooked some glaring problems with Texas’ standards.

He pointed to a separate examination from the National Center for Science Education that found Texas’ standards contain “creationist jargon” and “reflect political and religious agendas, rather than good pedagogy and strong science.”

“Without the State Board-mandated political, anti-scientific changes, Texas would have received an A or perhaps B grade from the Fordham reviewers,” said Schafersman, who is running as a Democrat for an open West Texas seat on the board.

If Schafersman’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s been one of the indefatigable SBOE meeting livebloggers of late. He’d be a great addition to the Board, but he’s running in a bright red district, so I can’t say I’m holding out any hope. Texas Politics has a link to Schafersman’s full response. TFN Insider has more.

It’s Bradleys all the way down

Me, March 15, on the subject of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe’s confirmation issues in the Senate:

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

Peggy Fikac, March 28, same subject.

It looks like speak-his-mind prosecutor John Bradley’s appointment as head of the Forensic Science Commission will end with this legislative session.

But Bradley’s brother, the equally blunt David Bradley, may benefit if Senate Democrats also block State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe’s appointment.

What’s more, if Gov. Rick Perry were to name David Bradley to replace Lowe after this regular session ends, senators might not get a chance to weigh in on the appointment until the 2013 regular session (barring a special session).

Perry’s appointments of Lowe and John Bradley are in trouble because a two-thirds Senate vote is needed to confirm nominees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 12 Democrats.

A couple of Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing John Bradley. Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said all the Republicans would vote for Lowe. But that’s not enough. Without a Senate vote, the appointees’ terms end when the session does in May.

David Bradley, a State Board of Education member from Beaumont, is a possible Lowe replacement. He’s a leader of conservatives who’ve made controversial social studies changes that even a conservative group said exaggerates Biblical influence. Bradley once tried to insert President Barack Obama’s middle name, “Hussein,” in a reference to him in history standards.

Lowe, while conservative, is credited with an even hand in presiding over board meetings. Bradley acknowledges he doesn’t have her patience.

I’m just saying.

Lowe has confirmation issues, too

John Bradley isn’t the only Rick Perry appointee who is having trouble getting confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who chairs the Senate Nominations committee, says Gail Lowe has not been scheduled for a hearing as chairwoman of the State Board of Education because she lacks the votes for a confirmation on the floor.

Gov. Rick Perry nominated Lowe, who currently serves in the position, on Feb. 1. Democrats in the Senate have been unhappy with her performance — especially in light of a recent report that blasted the state’s social studies standards.

Deuell said that while he believes the Lampasas Republican’s nomination has the votes to get out of committee, she currently does not have the support of any Democrats — meaning she would not survive a vote of the full Senate.

[…]

In blocking Lowe, who, while a member of board’s social conservative bloc, is known for a balanced management style, Democrats run the risk of a more controversial member as her replacement.

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

“You know what that leads to? COMMUNISM!”

I normally consider it unseemly to kick a man while he’s down, but some men richly deserve it.

The godless, left-wing radicals have taken over universities and the national government and are radically transforming the country, State Board of Education member Don McLeroy warned in a speech last week to a Tea Party group in Bastrop.

“Sadly, instead of teaching our children historical facts, many professors indoctrinate them in the social history of race, class, and gender. And, if they teach the Constitution, the Declaration, and the arguments of the Federalist Papers at all, they teach they are obsolete,” McLeroy complained. “But, for a free society, history is everything. Thus, it is imperative that we teach our children what it means to be an American. Our children must learn how our free society rose to greatness and how it could fall.”

Just as a reminder, McLeroy was booted out in a Republican primary. Who knew there were so many godless, left-wing radicals in the Texas GOP these days? And where’s Colonel Flagg when you really need him? Next to Governor Perry, I can’t think of someone whose exit from the public stage is more deserved or overdue than McLeroy.

Is this the swan song for the clown show?

After all this time, my heart isn’t into snarking on the SBOE and its latest travashamockery. I just want to point one thing out from how the vote went on that ludicrous and hateful anti-Islam resolution:

State Board of Education 
vote breakdown

For: David Bradley, R-Beaumont; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Terri Leo, R-Spring; Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas; and Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.

Against: Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas; Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford; Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno; Mavis Knight, D-Dallas; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock; and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio.

Did not vote: El Paso Democrat Rene Nuñez was at the meeting earlier but absent for the vote. Corpus Christi Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga was not at the meeting.

Putting aside the fact that it’s a damn shame Nuñez and Berlanga weren’t there, note that the Fors included two people who won’t be around next year. With Don McLeroy being replaced by an inhabitant of this planet, that will make future shenanigans of this type much more difficult. If we can manage to vote in one of Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, it’ll be damn near impossible. Get them both in, and we may actually be able to seriously undo some of the damage. This was Don McLeroy’s last gasp. Go ahead and get angry about all that he and his henchpeople have done, and then get fired up about fixing it. More coverage here, here, here, here, and here.

The clown show finally calls it a wrap

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some other state to be the national laughingstock again. The Court of Criminal Appeals gives it a good run for its money, but you just can’t out-embarrass the SBOE, and every time they meet it gets worse. All I can say is thank goodness that two of the worst of these clowns will never hold public office again.

Anyway, here’s your wrapup from the Day Two festivities, which carried over a few minutes past midnight and into Day Three, from the Trib, TFN, and Abby Rapoport. And here’s your Day Three liveblogging and other reports, from TFN, the Trib, TFN again, the Trib again, Abby Rapoport, and Steven Schafersman. Mainstream media coverage is here, here, and here. Burka and Stace also weigh in, and of course Martha was working it on Twitter. May those who had to endure all this get a nice long vacation to recover their sanity.

Most of the heavy lifting came during Thursday’s marathon session. Friday was about finishing touches and final votes. The highlight was the restoration of Thomas Jefferson to the world history curriculum, reversing a decision that has drawn the most derision from pretty much everywhere on the planet. That’s good for TJ, but not so much for his fellow Enlightenment figure James Madison, who didn’t make the cut. The lowlight, if you have to pick just one, was the Board’s ratification of the idea that there is no “separation of church and state”. As noted by the Trib:

[M]embers this afternoon passed an amendment to the state’s socials studies standards calling for students to “contrast” the intent of the nation’s founders with the notion of separation of church and state.

It reads: “Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase, ‘separation of church and state.’”

The motion came from Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, a moderate Republican who worked on the language with arch-conservative former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan. With the exception of the adding the word “compare” along with “contrast” and including some verbiage directly from the First Amendment, what the board passed mirrored what McLeroy had originally proposed.

I have several statements, from the Texas Freedom Network, Bill White, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, and Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Stephen Brown, about this travesty beneath the fold. Texas Politics has a reaction from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who echoes former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige. The only thing we can do about this is elect some better SBOE members. Three such candidates running this year are Judy Jennings, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, and Michael Soto. The TDP got video statements from all three at the meeting, which you can see below:

Here’s a video of TFN President Kathy Miller, whose group has been a stalwart all throughout this process and which deserves your support as much as any candidate:

We can’t afford any more of this crap. We have a chance to do something about it this year. Please help these folks out.

(more…)

Science textbook delay

The adoption of new science textbooks may be delayed a year as a budget maneuver.

The $1.4 billion price tag for new science textbooks and other materials has been causing sticker shock among state officials bracing for the upcoming budget shortfall.

So, the State Board of Education on Tuesday must decide whether to push ahead despite the cost or delay the textbooks for at least a year to save the state money in the 2012-13 budget.

[…]

The $1.4 billion total would pay for much more than science textbooks, including ongoing contracts for instructional materials and books for new students. But the state at this point has more flexibility on the science textbooks than the other materials.

One option the board will consider is keeping the existing textbooks for a little longer while providing students electronic supplements that would reflect the science curriculum standards approved by the board last year.

Basically, it’s another accounting trick, since changes to the curriculum will require different textbooks. The money will be spent, it’s just a question of how much of it will be spent this biennium, and how much will be put off till next time. Too bad they’re not considering a similar delay for social studies. In fact, as Lisa Falkenberg notes, McLeroy will be doubling down on the social studies madness one last time before he slinks off the stage. As before, TFN will be live-blogging the whole mess when it starts tomorrow. We’ll see how much worse it’s all about to get.

UPDATE: An “indefinite delay” in buying the new science textbooks has been recommended to the Board.

White tells the SBOE to wait till next year

As we know, the SBOE is set to take a final vote on their proposed revisions to the social studies textbook standards. They’ve received a lot of mostly negative feedback so far, but have said they’re still considering specific suggestions. Here’s what Bill White had to say to them.

I write to urge the State Board of Education to return the proposed revisions to the Social Studies TEKS, 19 TAC Chapter 13, Subchapters A, B, and C, to the TEKS review committees and to delay adoption of the TEKS until January 2011. Some of the revisions proposed by the SBOE are in direct conflict with the recommendations of the review teams and others with subject matter expertise. Substitution of judgments by elected officials on subjects requiring expertise runs counter to basic principles of academic freedom and respect for the professionalism of educators.

I specifically object to the proposed revisions to Subchapter C, Section 113.42(c)(20)(C) and ask that the proposal as written by the review committee prior to the SBOE’s revisions be adopted.

That TEK was designed by educators and experts to teach about the impact of Enlightenment period ideas, following Section 113.42(20)(A) which recognizes the ideas as a precursor to democratic-republican government. Instead of providing content to support the lesson, the SBOE’s proposal strips out the terms “Enlightenment ideas” and “political revolutions,” and omits Thomas Jefferson from the list of Enlightenment thinkers who inspired political revolutions.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

Sincerely,

Bill White

A press release from White is beneath the fold. It’s not too late for you to submit your own feedback if you want to. The goal here is to get them to put it off till 2011, when the current lame ducks have been replaced by their elected successors. There’s no way it actually happens, of course – you think Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar are going to turn this chance down? – but we’ve got to be as loud and clear as we can about their illegitimacy. The Trib and TFN have more, the latter including a list of McLeroy’s proposed amendments. Because what they’ve come up with isn’t bad enough already.

(more…)

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.

“The list of shame”

Here are three last reminders of that gang of idiots known as the State Board of Education before they return in May to finalize the vandalism they committed last week. First up, from the Texas Freedom Network:

So what happened? Over just a few days in January and this month, the state board shredded nearly a year’s worth of detailed work by teachers, scholars and other curriculum writers. In vote after vote, board members made numerous and outrageously foolish, intolerant and ignorant changes based on little more than their own (limited) knowledge and personal beliefs.

The problem isn’t simply that many changes were wrong factually. Teachers will surely despair as they read through the numerous names, dates and events board members added willy-nilly to the standards with little consideration of how in the world to cram all of those facts into the limited instructional time available for classes.

In addition to that, poor scholarship — if scholarship is a word that can be used to describe any “research” done by this board — was particularly evident during the debate. On more than one occasion, board members simply resorted to Internet searches from laptops at their desks. They invited no historians, economists, sociologists or even classroom teachers to guide them as they rewrote history (and standards for government, economics, sociology and other social studies courses) with scores of ill-considered, politically motivated amendments. In fact, board members had explicitly rejected a proposal in November that they invite such experts to be on hand during the debate. They simply didn’t want to be bothered with facts and real scholarship as they moved to transform a curriculum document into a political manifesto.

They then present a long list of excruciatingly dumb things the Board did. You may need a drink to get through it all. When you’re done with that, here’s a Statesman editorial to finish you off.

The McLeroy faction occupied seven of the 15 seats on the board and has used that to force a very narrow worldview into Texas public school instruction. So cocky was McLeroy before the March 2 primary that he said the balloting was a referendum on the board’s performance.

The voters spoke, but McLeroy and company obviously weren’t listening. Board chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, quit listening as well. She sided with radicals on tie votes at last week’s meeting. Lowe was appointed to head the board after the Texas Senate refused to confirm McLeroy as board chair.

McLeroy, [Cynthia] Dunbar and [Geraldine] Miller’s terms expire in December, a month that can’t come soon enough.

Remember when Paul Burka advised Lowe to try to be non-controversial as SBOE Chair? Guess that didn’t take. Too bad for all of us. Last but not least, Dave Mann asks the question that I’m sure many more people will be asking in the coming months:

I can think of no other state agency that has a separately elected board of non-experts that controls key agency functions. Some people argue that education is so important, it requires this added layer of policy-making (and I’m using that term in its loosest sense).

But is education any more important than other policy areas—like ensuring we have clean air, monitoring doctors, dispensing food stamps to poor families, determining which children receive government health insurance—that we delegate to administrative agencies? I don’t think so.

In fact, one frustrated board member, Mary Helen Berlanga, even said several times during last week’s meeting that the Legislature should consider abolishing the State Board, telling the Texas Tribune that, “I think we’re going downhill.”

In the 2009 session, state lawmakers from both parties proposed bills that would have stripped the State Board of much of its power or abolished it entirely. None of them came close to passing. But there’s always next session.

And after another State Board meeting filled with cringe-worthy moments, quite a few legislators probably find the notion of abolishing the board rather appealing.

Honestly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But if it’s at least in the conversation, that will say quite a bit.

Time to send in the clowns

You know that old expression about how no one’s life, liberty, or property are safe when the Legislature is in session? That’s how I feel these days about the State Board of Education. And that means it’s loin-girding time, because here they come again, to finish off the social studies textbook standards that they deferred from January.

A three-day meeting beginning Wednesday is the first since voters in last week’s Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. Two other conservatives — a Republican and a Democrat — did not seek re-election. All four terms end in January.

[…]

“I think there’ll be lots of amendments … a lot of media attention, and it’s important,” McLeroy said of the meeting, adding that his lame-duck status won’t affect his approach. “Our country is divided on how we see things and these things really come into sharp focus, especially with history and how you present it to your children.”

The 15-member board is expected this week to finish debating social studies, history and economics curriculum before taking a preliminary vote. The final vote is expected in May. Aside from the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, debate could flare over issues such as border security and how much children will study the impact of government regulation on the free enterprise system.

Unfortunately, the board has repeatedly proven that like the song says, they don’t know much about history.

Among the choices the board has made this year:

• The board voted to pull a popular children’s book author after confusing him with the author of a book about Marxism.

• At the urging of a Dallas board member, the panel rejected a nationally known migrant labor leader because she was a member of a socialist group. Instead, the sponsoring member extolled the virtues of Helen Keller, unaware that Keller advocated for socialism.

• The board changed a section on McCarthyism after a member said research had “basically vindicated” the senator’s 1950s hunt for communists.

“This goes to the fundamental issue. The board is not made up of educators, yet alone historians. They look very ignorant when they don’t know that Helen Keller herself was a socialist,” said Julio Noboa, a history professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, one of the board’s socials studies experts offering recommendations. “It really makes them look stupid. These people are making education decisions for one of the largest states in the union.”

It’s stuff like this that really makes you proud to be a Texan, doesn’t it? Get ready for three more days of wince-inducing headlines and stories, followed by the usual barrage of bemused and outraged national coverage. The Trib has an annotated list of what the SBOE will be discussing, and I’m sure that the Texas Freedom Network will be there to liveblog it.

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: DMN for Ratliff and Kinky

The Dallas Morning News has a couple of endorsements of interest, one good and one puzzling. In the good one, they endorse challenger Thomas Ratliff in his GOP primary race for the SBOE against wingnut Don McLeroy.

McLeroy, a board member since 1999, undoubtedly cares about education. But this panel could use Ratliff’s more practical approach to keep its work focused on essential issues. He’s not an ideological brawler and could develop consensus.

Ratliff has had experience doing just that while serving on boards at his children’s public schools in East Texas. And he says he would listen to teachers and superintendents in determining what students should know. Setting standards is a key function of this board, and Ratliff, 42, would be more in touch with educators than McLeroy. While Ratliff shouldn’t become their captive, Texans are better served by someone who takes teachers’ points of view seriously in crafting curriculum.

We also prefer Ratliff’s emphasis on depoliticizing appointments of outside advisers, including those who handle the state’s sizable education funds. The board has run into problems in selecting investment advisers.

I think that first sentence is too generous to McLeroy, who as far as I can tell cares only about advancing his ideological agenda. The single best thing that could happen to the SBOE would be for Ratliff to beat McLeroy.

And in the puzzling one, they recommend Kinky Friedman for Ag Commish. Sort of. Actually, they just express dislike of Hank Gilbert and go from there.

Gilbert knows agriculture issues in vastly greater depth than Friedman, but he would lead Texas in the wrong direction in key areas. One is a move away from globalization and toward protectionism for farm products. He says he is not a big fan of crop subsidies, yet he thinks Congress caved to foreign nations that complained Washington was propping up U.S. producers too much.

Gilbert, 50, of Whitehouse, also opposes key parts of the state water plan. He would take the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir off the table as a possible water source for the burgeoning Dallas-Fort Worth area. He would bank on a less-certain strategy of shipping in water from other regions and building massive desalinization plants to purify brackish water.

Friedman, 65, of Austin, doesn’t get into such details. He says he’d hire experts to hash out policy so he could concentrate on being a spokesman for family farms and kindness to animals. That’s not a great model for the job, but a better one than Gilbert proposes.

Inspiring, huh? How seriously is Friedman taking this job and this election? Well, he’s got gigs scheduled in Dallas (warning: music) and here in Houston while early voting is going on. I guess hiring experts to do the actual work really frees a guy up to do what he wants. Hey, DMN, did it occur to you that you could just not offer an endorsement in the race? Sheesh.

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Thomas Ratliff

I’m very glad to see that the Texas ParentPAC is getting involved in the SBOE primaries. Here’s their press release for the District 9 GOP race:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Thomas Ratliff for election to District 9 State Board of Education, which includes all or part of 29 counties in East and North Texas.

“Parents and children deserve be represented by a respected leader like Thomas Ratliff,” said Texas Parent PAC board of directors member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. “His focus will always be on educational excellence in our public schools rather than on politics.”

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,” Meyercord said. “Thomas Ratliff will respectfully listen to parents and educators and bring much needed business expertise and fiscal responsibility to this important board.”

He earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Texas Tech University and a master of public affairs degree from The University of Texas at Austin. Meyercord said Ratliff has the analytical skills, integrity, and judgment necessary to make better board decisions on managing billions of dollars in the Permanent School Fund.

Ratliff and his wife Stacy are rearing their two children surrounded by extended family in their hometown of Mount Pleasant, where both graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. Both Thomas and Stacy have served on leadership teams for their children’s public schools and in countless school volunteer roles.

Last year, Thomas was lay leader at Tennison United Methodist Church and is a frequent Sunday School teacher.

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.thomasratliff.com to find a map of District 9 and persuade their friends and relatives throughout the large district to vote for Ratliff 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 Ratliff campaign and/or donate money and in-kind services.

This is great news, and I hope they have the kind of success in knocking off a virulent enemy of public education as they did in 2006 when they hit the scene with a splash by booting Kent Grusendorf. The release doesn’t mention Ratliff’s opponent, but I will: Don McLeroy, who may be the single most malevolent force against students and the curriculum today operating right now, given that the Lege is not in session. I hope the ParentPAC has enough muscles to flex in this Republican race to make a difference, and I hope they’ll be looking at some of the other primaries to see where they might be effective as well.

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.

You can try, but you can’t out-embarrass the SBOE

The Court of Criminal Appeals has had a good run lately as the public institution that has caused the most embarrassment to Texas, thanks in no small part to the ongoing Keller saga and the recent hot judge-on-prosecutor ruling. But never count out the State Board of Education, where it’s not just a clown show, it’s a way of life, as seen in these clips from the recent hearings on social studies textbooks gathered by TPM Muckraker.

In these clips, the seated officials are members of the GOP-majority board of ed. The woman standing up is the representative of the high school U.S. history textbook standards writing team. Keep in mind, the writing team is supposed to incorporate in its next revision of the standards the input of the board members.

First up, board member Don McLeroy explains the importance of recognizing how “the majority” has helped “minorities” like African-Americans and women. “For instance, the women’s right to vote. … The men passed it for the women.”

(An incredulous female board member can be heard asking in the background, “How many years did it take?”)

I suppose by McLeroy’s logic, I ought to be grateful to all of the people in high school who could have beaten me up but didn’t. That came out almost two weeks ago but just came to my attention, via Twitter. Which means that no matter what ultimately happens, that will be the lasting impression a lot of people have of the SBOE. If only it were an inaccurate one.

The new social studies curriculum, so far

There’s no reason to believe that the lunatic fringe of the State Board of Education will do anything but push an unrealistic and ideological change to the state’s social studies curriculum. They’ve made that clear by the kind of “expert” they’ve added to the committee that’s doing the review. But so far, at least, so good.

The first draft of new social studies standards for Texas public schools is out and, as expected, it contains little to stir up controversy. The curriculum standards, written by teams of teachers and academics, spell out what should be taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Debate is expected to pick up when the standards go before the State Board of Education this fall. Board members clashed over proposed science standards earlier this year, and the social conservative bloc on the panel is expected to press its views – including the importance of Christian values in U.S. history – when the document comes up for consideration.

Although three curriculum experts appointed by social conservatives called for some dramatic additions in the curriculum proposal, their suggestions were largely ignored by the writing teams – which pursued a more mainstream approach to U.S. history, government and other subjects. The draft is available here.

It would have been much better, of course, for those three so-called “experts” to have never been selected to serve on the committee. But given that they’re there, the more they can be ignored, the better. Again, in the end I am sure they will make their presence known. For now, at least, sanity is prevailing. EoW has more, while the Texas Freedom Network has a few bon mots from (former) Chairman Don.

Defining “expert” down

The Statesman editorial board lets us know how Don McLeroy defines an “expert” on something.

Don McLeroy, who couldn’t muster enough votes in the Republican-dominated Texas Senate to win confirmation as chairman of the State Board of Education, has a curious notion of what qualifies someone as an expert.

“If two (board) members think they’re qualified, they’re qualified,” McLeroy said. McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who retains his seat on the board, was discussing the selection of experts chosen to make recommendations on the state’s social studies curriculum to be adopted next year.

Give the doctor points for candor, but securing two votes of people who agree with your views on religion and politics — religion in politics in this case — should not an expert make. McLeroy’s comment reveals what is horribly wrong with the way curriculum is developed by an elected board that serves as a platform for the ultra-conservative members to promote a religious ideology.

You have to admit, that explains a lot. One wonders: If, say, two board members of the Texas Freedom Network produced a list of experts on the Bible, do you think Don McLeroy would accept it? I’m kinda thinking the answer to that is No.

Perry appoints Lowe chair of SBOE

The good news is, he didn’t pick Cynthia Dunbar. The bad news is, it’s not clear how much better new State Board of Education Chair Gail Lowe will be.

Lowe, co-publisher of the Lampasas Dispatch Record, was first elected to the board in 2002 after serving on the Lampasas school board.

Perry’s pick avoids the controversy that would have followed if he had selected one of the members whose names have been floated as likely candidates, including Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richardson.

Lowe consistently votes with the conservative wing of the 15-member board but she has typically been a quiet presence.

That makes her sound somewhat like Barbara Cargill, about whom The Contrarian recently wrote. About Lowe, The Contrarian says:

My impression of Lowe — from watching hours of State Board proceedings last year (an experience from which I’m still recovering) — is that she’s not the savviest operator in the group. She’ll likely be a quieter public presence as chair than [Don] McLeroy.

The open question is whether she’ll be more effective at passing a socially conservative agenda.

That may make this a very savvy move by Perry, if it turns out Lowe is effective in getting wingnuttery passed but manages to avoid becoming an easy target by being low key. So far, some potential critics are staying reserved.

Richard Kouri, public affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, said Lowe’s selection is no surprise.

“She’s certainly somebody who’d been on the short list of names that had been circulated … pretty much comes from that same sort of conservative block.”

Kouri said his organization will closely watch next week’s meeting. They’ll look for clues as to whether Lowe will be able to calm the politicized rifts that have characterized the board in recent years. Debates over language arts and science curriculum have been especially contentious and a revision of social studies objectives is already heating up similarly.

“Given the split on that board, we would like to see a chair that I guess is more the arbitrator, more the person who is going to create a level and fair environment for the discourse to happen, not basically be the kind of chair that says, ‘This is what I believe, now eight or nine of you line up behind me,” Kouri said.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association in Fort Worth, agreed that change is needed.

“I sincerely hope they start taking more realistic positions instead of political positions because they’ve made themselves irrelevant in the minds of many educators, including me,” he said.

Others, like the Texas Freedom Network and Hal at Half Empty, are unimpressed. Here’s TFN:

In 2004 Ms. Lowe opposed requiring that publishers obey curriculum standards and put medically accurate information about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention in new high school health textbooks.

In 2007 Ms. Lowe voted to throw out nearly three years of work by teacher writing teams on new language arts standards. Over the strenuous objections of teachers and curriculum specialists, Lowe instead voted for a standards document that the board’s far-right bloc patched together overnight and slipped under hotel doors the morning of the final vote.

In 2003 and 2009 Ms. Lowe supported dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

Going back to that Star-Telegram article, Lowe makes herself sound like a mixed bag.

Lowe, who is also a Republican conservative, thinks she was selected by Perry because she is the type of person who writes headlines instead of making them.

“I’m a little bit more of a background person than others,” she said. “I’m not upfront. I choose my words carefully and don’t speak an awful lot.”

She said she is honored by the appointment and will do her best.

“There are a number of our members I think would have made excellent leaders,” she said, “but I’m probably freeing up others who are more vocal, to continue to do what they do.”

“I think Cynthia (Dunbar) would’ve done a good job as chair, but she’s such an outspoken person that I think she would’ve been a lightning rod,” Lowe said. “I’m sure I will get that kind of scrutiny, too. I’m not naive.”

Lowe’s youngest child is still in public school, and she has served as a Lampasas school trustee and classroom volunteer before being elected to the SBOE seven years ago.

“My emphasis has always been on academic achievement and that’s what I will continue to pursue,” Lowe said.

At least she has a kid in public school, which is a clear distinction from the Dunbars of the world, who are working to kill public schools. If she really does focus on academic achievement, and stays away from the divisive stuff that’s been the SBOE’s hallmark lately, she’ll at least be a step up from McLeroy. On the other hand, if she really did think Dunbar would have made a good Chair but for her outspokenness, that’s worrisome. We’ll just have to see how it goes. What I do know is that getting some of the clowns off of the Board remains a top priority, and that means getting Dunbar and McLeroy unelected next year. The less crazy the Board is as a whole, the less it matters how kooky the Chair is.

SciencePAC

Chad Orzel mentions an idea by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum from their book Unscientific America.

Why not form a nonpartisan science political action committee, or PAC, devoted to funding candidates who are either scientists themselves or who make science a strong priority and have good records on science issues? With adequate fundind, the PAC might select, say, five or ten members or candidates to support each election cycle. If there’s a desire to be really aggressive (and we have mixed feelings about this strategy), it could also target science “bad guys”– climate change deniers, officials who promote manufactured scientific controversies, anti-evolutionists, and the like– who deserve to be unelected and give campaign funds to their opponents.

I think this is a great idea, and one that’s long overdue. Having pro-science candidates isn’t something that will happen by accident, or (if you’ll pardon the pun) by natural selection. Putting some skin in the game goes a long way towards making sure the things that are important to you are being represented in your government. The anti-science forces have no qualms about doing this. I see no reason why the pro-science side should stay on the sidelines. I can understand the concern about undercutting the impartiality of science, but when one side is advocating lies and distortions, I don’t see how standing up for the truth is a problem.

And yes, I think it’s as important to target bad guys as it is to promote the good guys. Use the Texas Parent PAC, which has promoted pro-education candidates in both parties, as a model. They put themselves on the map by knocking off State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, the public education-hating chair of the House Education Committee, back in 2006, doing the state of Texas an enormous favor in the process. A pro-science PAC could do a lot more good next year by backing primary challengers to Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar for the State Board of Education, shifting to support Dunbar’s Democratic opponent in the general election if need be. Honestly, this is a no-brainer.

Now Mooney and Kirshenbaum are writing about a national PAC, presumably to affect Congressional races, but the point is the same, and frankly there’s no reason there couldn’t be a bunch of state PACs that take after a national PAC. And if you really are squeamish about raising money for candidates, you can always go the grassroots activism route, though you’ll still need to raise money for it. The bottom line is that the scientific community is operating at a disadvantage, and the sooner it realizes that, the better.

Oh, and if the SBOE’s latest hijinx is any indication, historians should be forming a PAC as well. Clearly, no academic discipline is safe as long as this clown show is on the air.

Dunbar in line to chair SBOE

The crazy never stops.

Critics who engineered the recent ouster of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, in part because of his strong religious beliefs, could end up with someone even more outspoken in her faith.

Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, who advocated more Christianity in the public square last year with the publication of her book, One Nation Under God, is among those that Gov. Rick Perry is considering to lead the State Board of Education, some of her colleagues say.

Critics are gasping and allies are cheering over speculation that Dunbar, a lawyer, could win a promotion to the leadership spot.

“It would certainly cause angst among the same members of the pagan left that rejected Don McLeroy because he was a man of faith,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, one of the seven socially conservative members on the 15-person board.

Perry’s office declined to comment until “a final decision is made.”

No one can say we didn’t see this coming. It’s always about Rick Perry’s primary campaign, and board member Bradley’s comment sums up what the most important issue for the conservative movement is these days: Pissing off liberals. Who cares about anything else if it makes the “pagan left” unhappy? Well, some of us think that elevating Dunbar in this fashion will ultimately make it easier to beat her at the ballot box next year. So go right ahead, I say. Keep reminding everyone what a freak show the SBOE is, and how out of the mainstream the Republican Party that enables it is. We’ll be happy to have that conversation with the voters next year. Vince, EoW, and the Texas Freedom Network have more.

Five for SBOE 10

I think it’s safe to say the State Board of Education elections aren’t going to be the obscure affairs they’ve historically been any more. We know that now-former SBOE Chair Don McLeroy has drawn a high-profile primary challenger, and one of his chief cohorts in Crazytown, Cynthia Dunbar, has collected a total of five opponents, three Democrats and two Republicans. I was aware of two of the Democrats back in February (one of whom, Lorenzo Sadun, has now made his entry official), and now they have more company. SBOE 10 is pretty close to a 50-50 district, so this one should be quite the skirmish. With any luck at all, we could have a vastly saner Board of Ed in 2011. I sure hope so.

McLeroy gets a challenger

Paul Burka breaks the news that Thomas Ratliff, son of former State Sen. and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, will challenge Don McLeroy, the now-former chair of the State Board of Education, for his seat on the board next year. From the press release, which Burka quotes in full:

On the heels of a legislative session that saw 15 bills filed by Republican and Democrat legislators to curtail some or all of the responsibilities of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff has filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the District 9 seat. The incumbent is Dr. Don McLeroy, whose nomination for chairman of the SBOE was recently rejected by the Texas Senate.

Mr. Ratliff said, “First, I want to thank Dr. McLeroy for his 10 years of service on the SBOE. I just simply have a different approach to working for the parents and schoolchildren of Texas. I am running because I want to work with educators and the other SBOE members to provide leadership for Texas’ neighborhood schools, help mend the fractured relationship with the Texas legislature and restore the public’s confidence in the State Board of Education.”

“The SBOE has become a distraction to our neighborhood schools and a liability to the Republican Party under the leadership of Dr. McLeroy. I strongly believe we need to take politics out of our kids’ education and the state board should refocus its efforts on the truly important issues facing parents, students and educators.”

I’ve noted before that McLeroy’s district is not fertile ground for a Democratic challenger, so I’m thrilled to see a sane Republican mount a primary campaign against McLeroy. That won’t be easy either, as McLeroy is a hero to the wingnut fringe, and they specialize in winning races like this one, which Burka notes in his post. Still, this probably represents the best hope to unseat McLeroy, and if the son is anything like the father, it would be a huge step forward for Texas. Keep an eye on this one. Greg has some general-election numbers, plus a nifty map, here.

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.