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Geraldine Miller

An under the radar pickup opportunity

It’s an open seat in the SBOE.

Suzanne Smith

Suzanne Smith says she has tried to run a nonpartisan campaign in her low-profile bid for a place on the State Board of Education. But she stands to benefit from the current contentious political climate that might have Texas Democrats running to the polls.

Since January 2017, Smith’s campaign has blown through over $200,000 – more than all other board candidates combined. With $26,000 left in the bank as early voting comes to an end, Smith could be the first Democrat seated in North Texas’ District 12 since it became an elected position in 1987.

Her race is one of five contested seats up for election this fall on the state board. The 15-member board sets policies and curriculum standards for the state, and experts are split on whether Smith, a Dallas-area business consultant, has a chance of flipping a district that has been in Republican hands for decades. Her win could strengthen the coalition between Democrats and centrist Republicans on the board, dragging it even more to the center — a big contrast from its history of political infighting among partisan factions that earned it national notoriety for decades.

[…]

“We went into this race trying to raise the profile, make it a competitive race, and we have made it a nonpartisan race,” said Smith. And she thinks it’s winnable: “Not because I’m a Democrat or a Republican. Because I’m the best candidate.”

Smith’s opponent, Pam Little, has the endorsement of outgoing board member Republican Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, and is relying on the district’s conservative constituency to turn out as usual. “My opponent has a much more liberal slant than I do,” said Little. “That’s not what our Collin County folks want.”

But the amount of donations Smith has received may be telling a different story. This year alone, she has raised over $85,000, largely through small individual donations. “It will likely be $120,000 before the end of the race,” said Smith, a number that may be a drop in the bucket for many campaigns, but is practically unheard of in state board races. Candidates usually don’t raise more than a few thousand dollars according to Dan Quinn, spokesperson for the left-leaning state board watchdog, the Texas Freedom Network.

“That’s remarkable for an SBOE candidate, especially a Democrat, in a general election,” said Quinn. “It strongly suggests that her campaign has generated considerable interest in a district that hasn’t been competitive in the past.”

The numbers from 2014 aren’t that eye-catching – incumbent Tincy Miller got 61.39%, challenger Lois Parrott got 35.24%. It’s a bit more encouraging when you look at the data from 2016, in which Trump beat Clinton 50.1% to 44.4%; going to my usual point of comparison in the Court of Criminal Appeals, it was Keasler 56.6%, Burns 39.1%. In a year like this where everything has gone off the charts, who knows what can happen. Smith’s fundraising is superb in the context of an SBOE race, which never get much attention, but do keep in mind that the 15 SBOE districts are all more than twice as big as the 36 Congressional districts. $200K isn’t nothing, but there’s only so much it can get you in a district with over 1.5 million people. Suzanne Smith’s website is here if you want to check her out; the district has a lot of overlap with CD03 in Collin County.

Precinct analysis: SBOE districts

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


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

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

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

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

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

SBOE passes anti-voucher resolution

Good for them.

The Texas State Board of Education voted 10-5 on Friday to urge the Legislature to reject proposals that would result in public funds being allocated for private educational institutions.

The resolution, authored by Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, Jr., D-Brownsville, asks the legislature to “reject all vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.” It mirrored an amendment the House recently passed to the state budget by a wide margin banning the use of public dollars for private schools.

[…]

Though the resolution eventually passed, it initially endured stiff opposition from a number of board members – including some who said the issue was outside of the board’s purview.

Member Tom Maynard, R-Georgetown, while stressing that he was a “huge supporter” of public schools, said that the board should leave the issue to the legislature.

“I get the voucher question all the time. And my position is, this isn’t a matter for the SBoE,” he said. “This resolution puts us in a position of commenting on things that are not within our constitutional authority.”

Maynard moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which provoked a debate about the role of the State Board in evaluating education policy. Member Marisa B. Perez, D-San Antonio, argued that the issue was central to the Board’s responsibilities.

“Saying that it doesn’t fall under our guise is not an acceptable answer to the teachers who are asking for our support,” she said. “Siphoning money from our public schools and turning them over to our private schools is definitely something we should address.”

The question about going outside the board’s duties is a valid one. The SBOE doesn’t have budgetary authority, but they do play a role in school finance as the trustees of the Permanent School Fund. I don’t have a problem with them passing a non-binding resolution, but I admit I’d feel differently if they had voted in favor of vouchers. I wonder if they were motivated in part to take this action by getting their noses out of joint over their potential loss of charter school oversight.

Only one of the board members explicitly endorsed the proposals condemned in the resolution – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas.

“I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want,” she said. In addition to Miller and Mercer, other board members that voted against the resolution were chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, and David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Yes, of course my SBOE member supported vouchers, even though she once said she wouldn’t. Don’t blame me, I voted for Traci Jensen. Hair Balls has more.

2012 Republican primary runoffs

All the results are here. In the end, Ted Cruz won a pretty solid victory. I’ll note that in the last two publicly released polls, PPP had Cruz up by 10, whereas Baselice & Associates claimed Dewhurst was up by 5. Oops. The latter poll sampled people who hadn’t actually voted in the May primary, which sure seems like a stretch now. By the way, Baselice & Associates is the pollster that did that first Metro poll. Two completely different universes, and one silly poll result doesn’t cast a shadow on another, it’s just a reminder that polling isn’t destiny.

In the Congressional primaries of interest, Randy Weber in CD14 and Roger Williams in CD25 won easily, while Steve Stockman won a closer race for CD36. Multiple incumbents went down to defeat, most spectacularly Sen. Jeff Wentworth in SD25. Am I the only one who thinks that he might have been better off switching parties? Hard to imagine he could have done worse in November than this. Nutjob John Devine won himself a spot on the Supreme Court, which like the Senate just got appreciably more stupid. I will console myself with the thought that Devine, who is in many ways a huckster, is highly likely to run afoul of the code of judicial conduct at some point. Speaking of party switching, former Democrat Chuck Hopson is now an ex-Representative, as are Sid “Sonogram” Miller and Jim Landtroop. The only legislative incumbent to survive was the other party switcher, JM Lozano, who now faces a tough race in November. The runoff was even hard on former incumbents, as Warren Chisum lost his bid for the Railroad Commission. However, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman did survive, and former SBOE member Geraldine Miller got her spot back.

In other races of interest, Rick Miller won the nomination in HD26, thus likely delaying the de-honkification of the Fort Bend County delegation for at least another two years. By my count, of the eight Parent PAC candidates in the runoff, all but Wentworth and Hopson won, which is a pretty impressive result. Maybe, just maybe, the Lege will be marginally less hostile to public education next year.

Finally, in Harris County, it took awhile for the results to come in, but Louis Guthrie won the right to face Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the fall. That will be one to watch. Did any of these results surprise you? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Make that five of eight for Parent PAC. When I went to bed, Trent McKnight was leading in HD68, but by the time I got up this morning he had lost.

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

The out candidates

There are four LGBT candidates running for the Lege this year.

Ann Johnson, Carlos Vasquez, Ray Hill, and Mary Gonzalez

Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.

The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.

But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.

“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”

This story was run in March, and it’s been on my to-be-blogged list since then. Of the four, I knew about Ann Johnson and Ray Hill, both of whom are here in Harris County. I did not know that Mary Gonzalez (HD75, El Paso) or Carlos Vasquez (HD90, Tarrant County) were gay prior to reading this. Apparently, Gonzalez’s sexual orientation has become an issue in the campaign, though thankfully not without some pushback. Gonzalez, who is running for the seat that has been vacated by Rep. Chente Quintanilla, appears to be the frontrunner; she has been endorsed by Annie’s List, she is working hard, and she’s the leading fundraiser. Of the four, only Johnson is assured of being on the November ballot, but she’s also the only one who goes into November as an underdog – the others are all basically assured of election if they win in May. Hill, who is running what can fairly be described as a quixotic campaign against State Rep. Garnet Coleman, is highly unlikely to get that far. Vasquez is running against Rep. Lon Burnam. That’s unfortunate in the sense that there are many other districts where a Vasquez win would advance the cause of gay rights and other progressive ideals a lot more than a win against Burnam would, but that’s how it goes. Burnam was recently endorsed by the Star-Telegram and also has a significant fundraising lead, but he’s in a district that was drawn to be won by a Latino and the heightened turnout generated by the CD33 primary is likely to work against him. This one could go either way. Anyway, read the story and see what these candidates are about.

On a related note, a more recent edition of the Dallas Voice has a profile of George Clayton, the Dallas-area SBOE member who won his seat in an out-of-nowhere victory in the 2010 primary against long-time member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller. Clayton is the first out gay person to be elected to office in Texas as a Republican (and only one of 20 out of over 500 total nationwide), though his orientation was not widely known at that time. He’s opposed by Miller and two other candidates in this year’s primary and says his sexuality has not been an issue on the campaign trail; nonetheless, if he wins again I’d have to say it’s at least as remarkable an achievement as his first win was. He’s generally been aligned with the non-crazy Republican wing of the SBOE, so I wish him the best of luck.

A look ahead to SBOE races

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.