Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Judy Jennings

The Trump effect on the SBOE

The Trib covers some familiar ground.

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

At least one SBOE race is “very much in play,” said Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones. He’s referring to District 5, where Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Ken Mercer for the third time. The district reaches from Austin to San Antonio, extending northwest to cover several Hill County counties such as Llano and Kerr.

While Mercer — a fixture of the board’s far-right faction — is still the favorite to win, Jones noted the district is now “pink, not red” after the latest round of redistricting. With Trump also headlining the ticket, “the race stands to be the most tightly contested SBOE general election contest in more than a dozen years,” Jones wrote in an email.

Several recent polls show Trump is statistically tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton in GOP-friendly Texas.

Bell-Metereau, 66, a Texas State University English professor and former Fulbright scholar, notes that Mercer’s margin of victory has gotten smaller each time she’s run against him. In 2012, with Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ticket, Mercer, 61, an IT project manager and former state representative from San Antonio, won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. This year, there are only three candidates on the ticket, including Libertarian Ricardo Perkins, providing even more hope to Bell-Metereau.

“People are starting to look at the Republican brand with a little more skepticism,” she said. “I can’t help but see it as helping me.”

[…]

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

Jones said District 10, where Democrat Judy Jennings is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Maynard of Georgetown — also for the third time — is in play, too, although to a lesser extent. The district is wedged between Austin and Houston.

“Maynard remains a very heavy favorite to win in a district where Republicans enjoy a 10-point cushion even in the worst of times (pre-Trump worst of times, at least),” he said. “At this point, the best Democrat Judy Jennings can likely hope for is to keep Maynard’s margin of victory in the single digits.”

Maynard, 52, is one of the more moderate Republican education board members. The former school board member now heads the Texas FFA Association, a youth group focused on agriculture. Jennings, 62, formerly worked in the accountability division at the Texas Education Agency and now oversees assessment at Resources for Learning, an education consultancy.

Ten of the 15 board members are Republicans. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the margin of victory for incumbent Republicans in other races — SBOE and otherwise — may also be slimmer, Jones said.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning organization that closely monitors the education board, agreed.

“SBOE districts are so gerrymandered that general elections often aren’t competitive, but I think it’s true that the Trump disaster has at least the potential to shake things up in a lot of races up and down the ballot,” he wrote in an email, adding that “it probably helps challengers that some state board members sound so much like Trump.”

Dr. Dakota Carter, the Democrat trying to unseat Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, said “I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised Nov. 8.” Libertarian Whitney Bilyeu and Laura Palmer, a Green Party candidate, also are in the race.

“Unfortunately, what happens is these school board positions don’t get a lot of attention and usually go the way that several of the more well-known races go,” Carter said. “And so I think Donna has a real shot of this being her only term.”

I’ve discussed these three very races before. I’d love to see Mercer lose; he won in 2012 by less than ten points in a year when Mitt Romney was carrying Texas by 16, so you have to think that race will at least be closer this time. As with everything else, the question is how much of this is due to Republicans not voting for Trump but otherwise pushing the R button, how much is due to Rs not turning out, and how much is due to higher Democratic participation. If there’s enough of the latter two, Mercer and maybe one or both of the other two could be in trouble. We’ll know soon enough.

Chron overview of SBOE races

There are a few races of interest, though the usual bet is that nothing unusual will happen.

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter, a Democrat and underdog in District 6, said he got “fired up” to run for the board because he is tired of members manipulating the state’s curriculum to put it “more in line with politics rather than quality education for our kids.” To upend the direction of the board, he wants to unseat Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a conservative Republican who he contends lacks understanding of what it is like to teach or send children to public schools.

“I think who needs to be on the board are actual educators or parents with kids in public schools,” said Carter, who once was a substitute teacher and is pursuing a doctorate in education. “It’s strange to me why we would put so much power in somebody who honestly doesn’t have any experience of what happens in a public classroom, what teachers go through, what families go through in the public system.”

The Houston Federation of Teachers union typically would jump at the chance to try to unseat someone like Bahorich, who was a former staffer to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but has decided to sit this contest out, said Zeph Capo, president of Local 2415. Bahorich reaches across the aisle and regularly asks for the union’s opinion, he said.

“It’s very difficult to take a position against somebody who actually is working with you at the table and has done so long before anybody even considered running against them,” Capo said. “She’s willing to listen, she’s actually come to the table and she actually hasn’t been afraid to be seen with us.”

Last year, she appointed a Democrat to a key committee to study student testing and accountability, a move that signaled an easing grip on board partisanship.

“In this polarized society, that’s one of our problems, that we stay in our corners and we don’t talk to each other enough to work on things together,” said Bahorich, whose goals include focusing on college and career-ready courses and supporting successful charter schools. “There are some things we’re just going to have opposite. It’s better to have dialogue and conversation and try to work on things that you can agree on and move forward on.”

Not only does she face the race with the cachet of board chair, but the district largely is Republican, leaving an uphill battle for Carter, who would be both the youngest and first openly gay member to serve on the board if elected.

In Central Texas between Austin and San Antonio, conservative Republican Ken Mercer of San Antonio faces a challenge for the District 5 seat from Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, an English professor at Texas State University.

The district is largely Republican and has sent Mercer to serve on the board in every election for the last decade. He is one of its most conservative members, is a defender of creationism, doubtful of climate change and a steadfast believer that the division between church and state is not a constitutional principle.

This will be Bell-Metereau’s third run at Mercer, who she describes as one of the board’s “most extreme members.” Name recognition has helped her shrink the voter gap between them, but she has remained far from clinching a win. Debate on a controversial Mexican-American history textbook critics described as offensive and racist could have a bearing on the race should Latino voters, largely in San Antonio, mobilize against him.

West of Houston, Florence Republican Tom Maynard will try to defend his District 10 seat against Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat he beat by double digits in 2012. Jennings, who interprets student assessment data at Austin-based Resources for Learning LLC, argues the board micromanages the state curriculum and Republican members of the board are too afraid of right-wing groups to stand up to bad decisions. Maynard, considered a swing Republican on the board, is a former agriculture teacher and now executive director of the Texas FFA Association, also known as Future Farmers of America. He lists his top priority as demanding accountability and supporting local control.

The Chron endorsed Carter and Maynard but offered no opinion on District 5, which is centered in Bexar County. I’ve noted before that all three of these districts are susceptible, to varying degrees, of becoming competitive if the Presidential race is closer than expected. Here are the Presidential numbers from 2012 and the actual race results for your reference:


Dist    Romney     Obama    Romney%  Obama%
===========================================
05     375,942   294,887      54.7%   42.9%
06     332,415   215,839      59.7%   38.8%
10     331,022   235,591      57.0%   40.5%


Member, State Board of Education, District 5

Ken Mercer              REP  338,705  51.30%
Rebecca Bell-Metereau   DEM  281,445  42.63%
Mark Loewe              LIB   28,407   4.30%
Irene Meyer Scharf      GRN   11,717   1.77%


Member, State Board of Education, District 6

Donna Bahorich          REP  304,702  57.12%
Traci Jensen            DEM  208,198  39.03%
Gene Clark              LIB   15,189   2.85%
G C Molison             GRN    5,328   1.00%


Member, State Board of Education, District 10

Tom Maynard             REP  313,025  56.60%
Judy Jennings           DEM  239,985  43.40%

In a sufficiently bad year for Republicans, Mercer could be in danger. It would need to be a really bad year for Bahorich or Maynard to sweat. The former remains a possibility, the latter probably needs the polls to be tied to be in play. Mercer is the worst of the three, so that’s good news. Let’s wait and see what the October poll numbers look like, but do keep these races in mind if those numbers continue to be encouraging.

Endorsement watch: SBOE

The Chron makes endorsements in two SBOE races.

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

District 6

When she was first appointed as head of the State Board of Education in 2015, Donna Bahorich was condemned as an anti-education advocate of homeschooling who would drag the board back to its embarrassing days of fractious infighting. But Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has failed to transform into the forewarned partisan. Instead, the former Dan Patrick campaign manager has used statewide surveys to gauge parents, business leaders and educators on the issues facing the SBOE.

However, given the issues of standardized testing and age-appropriate curricula that currently vex the SBOE, we encourage voters to back her Democratic challenger, R. Dakota Carter, who has a unique expertise in these fields.

District 10

Our choice for this sprawling central district, which includes the cities of Georgetown, Bastrop and Sealy, is incumbent Tom Maynard.

When he first ran for the seat in 2012, some flags went up about Maynard’s allegiance to hard-right ideology. However, by and large during his term, Maynard has functioned less as an ideologue and more as a public servant who has the best interests of Texas’ children at heart.

The way they wrote these, they could just as easily have swapped which incumbents and challengers they endorsed. Bahorich, who is my SBOE member, has apparently been more of a work-together type than an ideologue, and it has at least blunted the opposition if not earned her a bit of support. See Zeph Capo’s comments in this Chron overview of the SBOE races for the evidence. Bahorich is a strong favorite to win in her 60-40 district – if anyone should be worried about the close poll numbers and surge in voter registration in Texas, it’s Tom Maynard in District 10.

For his part, Dakota Carter has been a very active campaigner and gotten a lot of Dems on board with him. He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s done all he can to make a contest of it. I will be very interested to see what the precinct results look like in this one when it’s all over.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes are made

The Chron has decided for some unknowable reason to endorse County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez for re-election.

Sanchez contends the treasurer’s office provides a vital checks-and-balances function on county spending, and that it would be a mistake to phase it out, even though he concedes it has been “emasculated” by Commissioners Court in recent years and is understaffed because of a hiring freeze.

Sanchez hopes to reclaim the office’s past role in overseeing county investments, an idea with added momentum due to the legal problems of the current chief financial officer. To that end Sanchez completed a required investment education course to be certified as a county investment officer under the Texas Public Funds Investment Act.

I have no idea what it is that the Chron sees in Sanchez – other than the color of his eyes, of course – but they must see something, since they endorsed him in 2006, too. It would be nice to know just exactly how Sanchez provides that vital check and balance function. Does he even show up at Commissioners Court meetings? Just one concrete example of something he’s done that would be reasonably considered a check or balance on the Court, that’s all I ask. As for the overseeing county investments, at least that answers my question about what steps he’s taken to do that, but it still doesn’t explain what took him so long. Surely that wasn’t a four-year course. If that’s such a fine idea, why didn’t he do it right after he took office?

A goofy endorsement for County Treasurer is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. A misguided endorsement for the SBOE is much more serious.

Republican Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat, are competing to succeed Dunbar in representing the SBOE’s District 10, which includes Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Milam, Waller, Washington and Williamson counties, as well as parts of Brazoria, Fort Bend and Travis counties.

Both are calm, measured, reasonable and actually interested in advancing Texas public education and not hobbling it to suit a political agenda.

[…]

If Farney wins — given that the district was drawn to maximize Republican strength, that’s a strong possibility — her diplomatic and political skills will be tested almost from the first day. She can help move the board past the ideological fog in which it is now hopelessly lost.

We think Farney is up to that job, and that’s why we recommend her.

That’s a lovely thought if Farney really were a moderate, but there’s considerable evidence that she’s not. Why take the chance when there’s a known quantity who will do what they say they want? It makes no sense. At least the Statesman got the other race right, endorsing Rebecca Bell-Metereau, but there’s no reason for them not to have nailed them both.

We’ll only debate you on our terms

From the inbox:

Democratic SBOE candidates accept yet another debate invitation – by all-Republican panel

Earlier: Republicans turn down debate after debate and hide from voters, claiming sponsor League of Women Voters is “too Democratic”

Note: The following statement is in reaction to yesterday’s announcement, made by the Texas Business and Education Coalition, that the organization will host a debate of the major party candidates for the SBOE races in districts 5 and 10, marking the first time of many attempts that the Republican nominees for those seats have not ducked a debate invitation.

Harold Cook, a spokesman for both Democratic candidates, said the following today:

“Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau are happy to debate their opponents and face voters any time, anywhere, unlike either of their opponents. There is no stronger evidence of this than the Democrats’ willingness to enthusiastically participate in a debate at which Bill Hammond, one of Texas’ leading Republicans, is among the moderators. The other two moderators have voted in Republican primary elections as well, leaving little doubt that the Republican SBOE candidates are only playing because they’ve stacked the deck.

“Despite the fact that the Republican SBOE candidates are simply exploiting this opportunity to claim that they are also willing to debate, Jennings and Bell-Metereau are nonetheless enthusiastic about the opportunity. They trust that the organizers and moderators will run a fair and enlightening event.

“Contrast that to the Republican SBOE candidates, who ducked a debate sponsored by the well-respected League of Women Voters, and treated as a joke another one sponsored by LULAC, an organization with more than 75 years of proud non-partisan achievement.

“Jennings and Bell-Metereau are more than happy to debate, even if it means participating in a Republican debate. Here’s hoping the two seemingly shy Republican opponents show up ready to admit to their extremist views, even to the Republican allies packing the room.”

See here and here for background. Debate ducking is a national phenomenon this year. I’ve included the press release from the Texas Business and Education Coalition beneath the fold, which needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, it really was DONE IN ALL CAPS, and it includes at least four misspellings that I spotted – “vying”, “incumbent”, “assistant”, and (my personal favorite) Cynthia Dunbar‘s maiden name. You really can’t make this stuff up.

(more…)

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.

Help out our SBOE candidates

There’s an all-day push going on at Daily Kos to raise a few bucks for Democratic SBOE candidates Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau. You can see a few of the diaries touting them here, here, and – my favorite, written by Judy Jennings’ brother – here. The goal is $10K, which by the time this gets published they likely will have blown past. But don’t let that stop you from dropping in a few bucks – these are important races, and there’s always another goal to reach. Go here to help out, with whatever amount you can give. In terms of bang for the buck, you just about can’t do any better than these two races.

It isn’t just about ducking debates

All you need to know about Marsha Farney, the Republican candidate in SBOE 10, and the kind of race she’s running is right here:

Farney, a former school teacher and high school counselor, has not responded to phone calls or e-mails since opening her campaign last winter. She agreed only to respond to written questions.

That’s from an overview of the race in the Chron. Farney won’t debate and won’t talk to the press in any substantive way. You have to wonder what it is she’s afraid she might say if she’s forced to speak in a setting that isn’t completely controlled. By way of contrast, note that Farney’s opponent Judy Jennings has no such fears.

If the story of the SBOE were told as a fairy tale

It would look something like this:

The truly scary thing is that none of that was made up. If you want there to be a happy ending, I recommend supporting Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings. Thanks to Harold Cook for the tip.

Fear of debating is contagious

From the inbox:

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Democratic nominee for State Board of Education District 5, and Judy Jennings, Democratic SBOE nominee in District 10, criticized their Republican opponents and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas today, after the RPT Chairman urged the two Republican nominees for those offices to skip a debate which would enable voters to hear from all the candidates in the two races.

The Democrats also challenged the Republican nominees for the two State Board slots to either admit that they begged the Republican Party to provide them an excuse to skip the debate, or to ignore their partisan Republican boss and face their Democratic opponents at the event.

The League of Women Voters-sponsored debates will be held September 28 in Austin, and televised by debate partner KLRU-TV. The debates will be moderated by Evan Smith, a respected journalist who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Texas Tribune and host of “Texas Monthly Talks,” a news program on KLRU-TV.

“It is painfully obvious that the two Republicans running for State Board of Education are worried that the Democratic nominees would trounce them in a fair fight, so they asked their state Party Chairman to give them any flimsy excuse not to participate,” said Harold Cook, a spokesman for Democrats Bell-Metereau and Jennings.

“Republican nominees for SBOE Marsha Farney and Ken Mercer have a lot of questions to answer, and they should come out of hiding and answer them. Are they going to participate in a fair debate, moderated by a respected non-partisan journalist, or are they going to follow the orders of their partisan boss? Texans are tired of the State Board of Education being Republicans’ political football, in which the school children of Texas get kicked around – this is supposed to be about quality public education, not political gamesmanship,” Cook said.

Both the Democrats have notified the League of Women Voters that they will participate in the League’s debate, and cautioned their opponents not to duck voters by failing to participate.

“I am honored to participate in the debate and to share my views with voters on how the State Board of Education can do much better for Texas school children. If my opponent respects the voters whose support she seeks, she will accept the offer to participate in this debate as well,” said Judy Jennings.

Jennings noted that this isn’t the first time her hyper-partisan opponent Marsha Farney has run for cover. Farney refused to respond to repeated attempts by reporters to contact her, after she was caught by the Austin American-Statesman characterizing Democrats in Texas as “America-bashing Democrats” at a Tea Party rally recently.

Both Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau have often decried the partisanship displayed by the incumbent Republican members of the Board.

“I’m pleased to accept the opportunity to let voters know my priorities if they elect me to the SBOE, and I’m equally pleased about the chance to inform voters of what my opponent has already done as an SBOE member,” said Rebecca Bell-Metereau. “I urge him to participate in the debate, because he has some explaining to do regarding his priorities while in office,” she said.

The dispute started yesterday, after Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri released a statement urging both of the Republican nominees to skip the debate, claiming that the Austin Chapter of the League of Women Voters wouldn’t be fair, despite the fact that the organization has hosted such forums for years without complaint. For this event, the League has partnered with Austin PBS affiliate KLRU to televise the debates, and had arranged for Evan Smith to moderate.

From Rick Perry to Greg Abbott to Farney and Mercer and who knows who else. Are there any Republicans out there that aren’t afraid to engage in a debate this year?

Interview with Judy Jennings

Judy Jennings

Completing our tour of the SBOE candidates, I bring you an interview with Judy Jennings, who is running for the open District 10 seat that the uber wingnut Cynthia Dunbar has vacated. Jennings has a PhD in educational psychology and has been an advisor to the Texas Education Agency on accountability and assessment issues. District 10 is a true swing district – Bill Moody got 49.2% of the two-party vote in 2006; Barack Obama got 48.2% and CCA candidate Susan Strawn won a plurality in 2008. Dunbar’s hand-picked wingnut successor failed to win in the Republican primary runoff, but GOP nominee Marsha Farney can only be called “moderate” by comparison, not because of anything she’s said or done. She’s also spent a ton of money so far, and likely will spend more through November. This race represents a huge opportunity for the forces of reason and sanity. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can see all of my interviews for the 2010 election cycle on my 2010 Election page.

Fundraising: SBOE

Really only two races of interest here, SBOE 5 and SBOE 10. Let’s take a look.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458837&form=COH

Totals From Report For Rebecca L. Bell-Metereau
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,790.51
Total Political Contributions: $69,779.06
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $79.17
Total Expenditures: $29,172.85
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $170.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $43,076.61
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457461&form=COH

Totals From Report For Kenneth B. Mercer
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $535.00
Total Political Contributions: $6,675.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $45.87
Total Expenditures: $24,969.83
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,720.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Not a bad haul at all for Bell-Metereau. SBOE districts are enormous, twice the size of State Senate districts, so that money will only go so far, but in context, it’s quite impressive. Mercer presumably had a few bucks lying around from his previous campaign, and I daresay he’ll depend more on the partisan lean of this district to win rather than any actual campaigning. But if he does plan to run a race, he’ll need to find the money for it first.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458836&form=COH

Totals From Report For Judith A. Jennings
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,876.61
Total Political Contributions: $54,600.81
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $40.29
Total Expenditures: $26,214.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $150.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $36,406.78
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458786&form=COH

Totals From Report For Marsha L. Farney
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period April 04, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $17,975.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $10.75
Total Expenditures: $101,875.04
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $4,049.86
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Jennings has another decent Democratic haul. Note that Farney’s totals only cover three months while Jennings’ span six; this is because Farney was in a primary runoff that she won in April. However, if you add her contributions raised in the previous three periods to this, she collected $44,276 for the six months, meaning that Jennings still out-raised her.

You may also notice the large sum Farney reported spending in this period. In fact, she spent an equal or greater amount in the two prior periods as well, and going back to the start of the year has dropped nearly $400K on this race. Almost all of that is reported on the Schedule G form, which is for “Political Contibutions Made From Personal Funds”. The disclaimer on each item is “Reimbursement for political contributions intended”. In short, she’s loaned herself all this money but hopes to get future contributors to pay it back. It’s still money spent, but if you look at her most recent form, the vast majority of these expenditures were made in April; in other words, they were runoff expenses, and thus aimed at a limited audience. If she’s spent that much so far to get nominated, it stands to reason she’ll spend at least as much to get elected, and while as I’ve said there’s a difference between raising money and spending it, that will still be of great use to her. That said, Jennings clearly has the advantage in the breadth of her campaign.

There is a third race that we’re all watching for the SBOE, of course, and that’s Michael Soto’s race in SBOE 3. Here’s Soto’s report – he raised $11K and has about $8K on hand. I didn’t add his report in like the others because he’s running in a strong D district – it’s about ten points more Democratic than SBOE 5 is Republican – and as such, I didn’t even bother to look up his opponent’s name. But here it is for your perusal nonetheless.

Beware the false moderates

Marsha Farney, the Republican running to succeed super wingnut Cynthia Dunbar in SBOE 10, was considered the more moderate candidate in the GOP primary runoff for that nomination. When compared to Dunbar, or to her hand-picked successor, Brian Russell, Farney clearly came across as the more sensible and less crazy choice. But as Martha keeps reminding us, that doesn’t actually make her a moderate. Let’s face it, being less crazy than Cynthia Dunbar isn’t a high bar to clear. The thing to remember is that there really is a sensible, moderate candidate running in SBOE 10, Democrat Judy Jennings. We have a chance to substantially improve the SBOE. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.

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…)

The historians have their say

The various legislative groups held their SBOE hearings on Wednesday. In pointing out the many ways in which that unesteemed body screwed the pooch on social studies, they joined with others in calling for a delay in adopting the new curriculum standard, pointing out that doing so could save the state a few bucks at a time when such things are needed.

With severe budget projections facing Texas next year, it makes sense to postpone the $800 million price tag for new history books, some legislators said.

“There’s no rush necessary. We have plenty of time to do it right,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which organized the special legislative hearing.

A dozen historians and other experts took aim at the proposal, which the education board plans to adopt May 21.

Historians described the document as bloated with detail and a distortion of history that glorifies the achievements of white males. Board members made nearly 300 amendments, changing recommendations of the board’s own experts so significantly that they may have violated state law, some lawmakers said.

That’s a pretty good idea, and it’s also a fairly standard thing to delay making some purchases to help balance budgets. There are certainly plenty of worse ways for the Lege to find cost reductions this biennium.

During the testimony, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott described the SBOE’s whitewashing of history as “payback” by the social conservative bloc. You can read a transcription of his remarks at BOR. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of the McLeroy/Dunbar/Bradley/Mercer oevre to realize that resentment is the main force that drives them, but it’s always nice to have it made clear and on the record. As Martha notes, this was just another way of saying that elections have consequences, which is why it’s important to elect qualified and responsible people to the SBOE. We see what happens when we don’t. EoW has more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Dunbar not running for re-election

Hallelujah.

Richmond Republican Cynthia Dunbar will not seek re-election next year to a second term on the State Board of Education, fellow board member David Bradley confirmed Wednesday

Dunbar, whose expansive district includes northern Travis County, wrote in an e-mail that she would provide a written statement on her plans later.

Dunbar has recently been teaching at the the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va. That job and the commute has put great demands on her time, Bradley said.

“She will be missed,” Bradley said.

Yeah, like an abscessed tooth. Thankfully, she’ll be going, but as the Trib notes, she’s got a minion waiting in the wings.

[Brian] Russell, who previously endorsed Dunbar and seeks to be her replacement, has nothing but kind words for Dunbar: “I think she’s had a terrific record of achievement on the board. She’s been a problem solver and someone who’s exhibitied a lot of leadership.”

“My advantage is that I haven’t been a lightning rod,” he said.

BOR has more about Russell. Needless to say, the best outcome here is for the seat to be won by Democrat Judy Jennings, who is running unopposed in the primary after Lorenzo Sadun stepped aside. This is a winnable seat, and to take it would help shift the balance of power in the rational/non-crazy direction. TFN Insider 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.

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.