OUR last report on this Texas Board of Education election was three months ago: Don McLeroy v. Thomas Ratliff: Good News.
Don McLeroy is the creationist dentist whose appointment as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (BOE) recently failed to win confirmation in the state senate. McLeroy is being challenged in the Republican primary next year by Thomas Ratliff, the son of former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.
We’re recommending Ratliff. That’s partly because we think McLeroy is as batty as the Time Cube guy. But Ratliff’s campaign website gives us positive reasons to support him, especially the section on Creation vs. Evolution.
While political observers seem transfixed on the coming heavyweight brawl between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the fight for the soul of the Texas GOP may be down the ballot in a race for State Board of Education. A battle between incumbent school board member Don McLeroy, a symbol of Christian conservatism, and challenger Thomas Ratliff, the scion of a moderate Republican family may show what’s to come.
What? A rinky-dink school board election is more important than a state-wide contest between two nationally-known heavyweights? Let’s read on:
“It’s a question: What direction does the Republican Party go in Texas and nationally for the future?” said Tom Pauken, who chaired the state GOP from 1994 to 1997, as it became the majority in Texas. “This little race is a reflection of the division within the party,” he said.
We agree completely. Continuing with the article:
Pauken agrees the Hutchison-Perry race won’t shed light on the debate. …
By contrast, in the state school board race the ideological lines and political alliances are bright red. McLeroy carries the flag for injecting moral values and reform into government affairs, while Ratliff seeks to depoliticize education and forge compromise with the generally more liberal education establishment.
Exactly! This brings to mind our Curmudgeonly concern about having our political choices limited to voting for either a socialist party or a theocratic party. Were that the future, your Curmudgeon would sail away, waving a sad farewell to the Statue of Liberty. That increasingly irrelevant monument would soon be re-named “The Food Stamp Lady,” or maybe she’d be melted down for scrap to make a creationist theme park — which would be built by the Chinese.
Okay, we’re getting carried away. Enough of that. Here’s more from the article:
“I’ve never had anybody announce in June,” McLeroy said. “There won’t ever be a campaign race like this for me.”
Yes, and when it’s over, we hope that dental drill of yours is jammed so far — No, Curmudgeon! Control yourself!
Okay, okay. Moving along:
While McLeroy has held his seat since 1998, it’s only been in the last three years that he has had the opportunity to push his conservative goals forward. In 2006, the board gained two new conservative members, and soon emerged as a clash site between social conservatives and moderates. Later in 2007, the governor appointed McLeroy chair.
We keep hoping that journalists will stop using “conservative” as a synonym for “creationist.” Dream on, Curmudgeon. Another excerpt:
When the board prepared to review the science curriculum, a bitter public battle began regarding how to teach evolution. McLeroy made headlines when he fought for the state science curriculum to describe the weaknesses of evolution. He succeeded in generating a curriculum that questions the fossil record on evolution and in the process became a symbolic leader for Christian conservatism.
On with the article:
McLeroy’s opponent, Thomas Ratliff, casts himself as a champion of professional educators and a guardian against politicians who seek to meddle in their classrooms. “I truly believe he (McLeroy) thinks he knows better” than educators what should be taught and how, Ratliff said. “I am one hundred and eighty degrees from that mentality.”
O Lordy, lordy. Let the creationist dentist return to what we assume is the exotic practice of treating tooth decay by faith healing. He has no business holding public office in a civilized nation. As for Ratliff, on the other hand:
Ideological fights over evolution and the like, he [Ratliff] said, are exactly what educators don’t need. He believes conservative board members pursue such debates for their own ideological satisfaction over the core task of educating children to think for themselves.
We’re going to take some excerpts out of their original sequence here:
The debate among Republicans — establishment and anti-establishment, social conservatives and social moderates — is playing out across the state board of education. Other members of McLeroy’s faction, Ken Mercer and Cynthia Dunbar, also face moderate primary challengers. According to Ratliff, the Republican challengers, while not formally coordinated, have all called him to discuss their races.
That isn’t surprising, as rational people can be expected to do things like that. On the other hand, let’s hear from the creationist dentist:
McLeroy makes no apologies for grafting a political agenda onto education. “The culture war over science education, the teaching of evolution, is going to be there, no matter what,” he said. “Education is too important not to politicize.”
McLeroy brushes off the controversy over science curriculum. The media, he said, seeks to pigeonhole him and his allies on the board as “religious fanatics.”
“I’m here on a social equity issue,” he said. “As a Christian with strong Christian beliefs … I know all these children are created in God’s image, and we need to help these kids. It’s a moral responsibility.”
No fanaticism there, right? Here’s one final excerpt:
But Ratliff and McLeroy both know the stakes are high in their primary race. Should McLeroy lose, the conservative bloc would have a difficult time getting the votes to push their agenda. And more broadly, the loss will indicate what type of Republican the conservative district favors.
Ratliff puts it plainly: “The $64,000 is: Who controls the party? Is it the folks who are ideologically aligned with him or those who are ideologically aligned with me?”
It’s “only a school board election,” dear reader, but the implications are far more important than is generally realized.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.