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Rebecca Osborne

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?

Election results: McLeroy loses!

The second-best news of the evening is that wackjob SBOE member Don McLeroy lost to Thomas Ratliff, thus making the state’s worst elected body at least somewhat less dysfunctional.

The board’s balance of power is delicate. Though it’s had ten Republicans and five Democrats serving, seven socially conservative Republicans formed a reliable voting bloc that, with the swing vote of Democratic member Rick Agosto, gave them the power to advance a socially conservative agenda.

That’s over now. Agosto did not seek re-election, and his probable replacement, Democrat Michael Soto, originally set out to challenge him and isn’t likely to take the same positions Agosto took. (Republican Tony Cunningham will run against Soto in the general election, but Cunningham hasn’t filed an campaign finance report since 2006, while Soto’s last report showed him raising $14,000.)

Without Agosto, the social conservative bloc needed both McLeroy and Ken Mercer to survive the election in order to maintain its power. Both races featured incumbent social conservatives versus more mainstream Republican lawyer-lobbyists. Both were expected to be close. One was, one wasn’t.

McLeroy lost by just over one thousand votes against Thomas Ratliff, a lawyer and lobbyist who also happens to be the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.

The vote tally I see on the SOS Election Night Returns page is Ratliff 56,207, McLeroy 55,368. A recount is possible, but that margin is unlikely to change by more than a handful. No matter what else happens this year, that one election has enabled Texas to take a huge step forward.

The other big SBOE result, which apparently caught the entire political world by surprise – not the only such result for the evening, as you’ll see – was the ouster of longtime Board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller by some guy no one has ever heard of.

Miller, who has served on the board since 1984, lost to challenger George Clayton, an educator with an unorthodox platform. Clayton only spent $1,788 on the race compared to Miller’s $54,685.

[…]

What Clayton’s addition will mean for the board isn’t clear. His platform, according to his website, argues for ending “all punitive measures against teachers resulting from poor student performance on all district and state mandated tests” and for requiring that all curriculum proposals “be approved by a general vote of teachers in a district.”

As for his views on social issues, the traditional flashpoint for the state board, the best clues come from his interview with the Dallas Observer, in which Clayton said: “It’s seems to me you can’t be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism]. It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism.”

Even the Texas Freedom Network was unprepared for this one. I’m sure we’ll be learning more about him soon.

Elsewhere, Ken Mercer easily defeated Tim Tuggey, so the route to improvement in that district goes through Rebecca Bell-Metereau‘s campaign; mainstream incumbent Republican Bob Craig beat back his wingnut challenger; and there will be a GOP runoff for Cynthia Dunbar’s seat, with Rebecca Osborne unfortunately finishing third. Get to know Judy Jennings, people.

Endorsement watch: Statesman on the SBOE

The Statesman makes some recommendations in SBOE primaries in hopes of getting a better, or at least a slightly less dysfunctional, Board for the coming year.

In the District 5 Republican primary, Tim Tuggey, 54, gets our endorsement. Tuggey, running against incumbent Ken Mercer, is a lawyer and lobbyist from Austin who graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, served as a captain in the U.S. Army and is a product of Texas public schools.

Tuggey brings a level head and financial management experience to the board. It speaks volumes that he has earned the endorsement of business leader Red McCombs and H-E-B. CEO Charles Butt for a campaign that focuses on improving dropout rates, preparing students for college or work after high school and competent oversight of the school fund.

In the District 5 Democratic primary, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 60, is the best choice. She is running against Daniel Boone, Josiah James Ingalls and Robert Bohmfalk.

Bell-Metereau brings strong skills to the job as a longtime English professor at Texas State University. With a distinguished academic background, experience raising two daughters in San Marcos public schools, high energy and thorough knowledge of the challenges facing public schools, she won’t put politics over children’s welfare.

For District 10, we endorse Republican Rebecca Osborne, 51, a teacher in the Round Rock school district. It would be a refreshing change to have someone on the board who could give a contemporary classroom perspective. In addition to college preparation, she wants schools to offer career and vocational instruction for students who decide to go directly to jobs after high school.

[…]

We’re also making an endorsement in the District 9 race that includes Brazos County, home of Texas A&M University. We recommend Thomas Ratliff in the Republican primary.

Ratliff, 42, of Mount Pleasant, a graduate of Texas Tech University with a UT master’s degree, has immersed himself in public school issues, including serving as a room parent for his daughter’s second grade class. He understands the urgency of the task of getting students ready to compete in a global society.

His opponent, incumbent Don McLeroy, 63, is stuck in the past, advocating a back-to-basics curriculum that all but guarantees that Texas students will lag behind their peers. Time to end McLeroy’s tenure.

That’s not even counting McLeroy’s – and Mercer’s – troglodytic views on science, history, and just about everything else. The Trib has a good overview of the SBOE 5 GOP primary as well, and you just can’t help but notice how much this stuff is about politics and grievances for the likes of Mercer and McLeroy and their destructive crew. Getting those two to join their retiring comrade Cynthia Dunbar on the sidelines would be such a huge step forward.

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.

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.