Texas SBOE Elections: Wackos Exposed

DOES anyone in the Texas media read your Curmudgeon’s humble blog? About six months ago we wrote Always Ask Candidates: “How old is the earth?”

It’s probably just a coincidence, but in the Dallas Observer, an artsy, alternative weekly newspaper, we read How Old Do Those State Board of Education Candidates Think the Earth Is, Anyway? Let’s Ask! Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

As one sign of a potential power shift, two of the hard-line gang of seven religious-right conservatives on the 15-member panel — Ken Mercer of San Antonio and Don McLeroy of Bryan — face stiff opposition in the March 2 GOP primary. Tim Tuggey, a lawyer from Austin, is facing Mercer in District 5; Legislative consultant Thomas Ratliff from Mount Pleasant will square off against McLeroy in District 9.

Our most recent post on those contests is here Texas SBOE: Primary Election Picks. Let’s read on:

Do these races — and a handful of others — spell a GOP shift for moderation on a once-little known board that has become a battleground over über-conservative issues like teaching creationism in Texas classrooms? …

Of course “moderate,” especially when applied to Republican office seekers, is a slippery term — maybe “not radical” is more accurate.

Terminology is problem when speaking of people like Mercer and McLeroy. They’re raging, flaming, full-blown young-earth creationists. They’re also theocrats, fanatically opposed to the separation of church and state. It wouldn’t surprise us if they were also in favor of witch burnings — lots of them.

We continue:

Ratliff [McLeroy’s GOP primary opponent], … says labeling him a moderate or his opponent a right-winger is an oversimplification and beside the point.


“It does make me chuckle a little bit when people view this race as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” Ratliff says. “These races are so obscure and so few people follow them, it’s hard to imagine we’re going to be a bellwether for any large chasm in the party. People are going to read into this whatever they will.”

Okay, here comes the Curmudgeon’s question:

Uh-huh. And speaking of bellwethers, Mr. Ratliff, just how old do you think planet Earth is anyway?

Again, he laughs. “Millions and millions if not billions of years,” he says. “I’m not an expert on carbon dating.” But he does think the planet is significantly older than, say, 10,000 years, unlike his opponent.

That’s not a brilliant answer, but in situations like this, we must remember Henny Youngman. When asked “How’s your wife?” he’d invariably respond: “Compared to what?” The way we see it, compared to McLeroy, Ratliff is a Renaissance man!

Now the article takes an interesting turn. It mentions Dr. James R. Leininger:

[P]ersonal political agendas have been the force driving controversy at this little corner of state government since the ’90, when James Leininger, a San Antonio businessman, began putting serious money behind hard-core religious right candidates for the board. …


Leininger’s absence seems strange, since it was his money that stirred the pot at the board, which got it media attention as the religious right pushed its agenda. That attention, in turn, has made this year’s races among the most high-profile the board has seen and endangers the sway held by the rightists.

Maybe Leininger isn’t willing to bet when it looks like his boys are facing a real horse race.

Then the article gets back to other SBOE contests, including the challengers for Cynthia Dunbar’s seat. We’ve written about that before (see Texas Board of Education: Dunbar’s Seat), so we’ll skip to the end:

What does this little game of musical chairs add up to? This could be the election that decides exactly how much power religious ideologues hold over the board that shapes the education for 5 million public school students in Texas. Consider this: In recent months the board conducted two high-profile battles over the standards for social studies and science texts. In the next couple of years, if money allows, the board will actually be deciding which texts to approve.

Hey, the Dallas Observer has another article on the SBOE: State Board of Education’s Cultural Warriors in Trouble. One excerpt:

Could it really be that the young Earthers, the intelligent designers and assorted Christian right-wing whackjobs who have made the Texas State Board of Education such a reliable source of amusement could be facing…extinction?

Please don’t get all moderate on us. Please, please support your local crazies on the SBOE. What’s more important here, people: quality, modern education for 5 million Texas school children or the entertainment value of watching elected officials debate whether the planet is older than a box of Twinkies on the back shelf of a convenience store?

The key thing, as we see it, is that these usually low-key, low profile elections are getting a lot of press attention. That’s good. Texas will end up with the kind of education they want — whatever that may be.

Remember: The date for these primary elections is Tuesday, 02 March.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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3 responses to “Texas SBOE Elections: Wackos Exposed

  1. If I lived in Texas, I would vote for Ratliff against McLeroy, but I would strongly encourage him to brush up on his science. Carbon is not used to date the Earth (or anything older than ~100K years), and any answer for the age of the earth outside the range of 4.5 – 4.6 BY is just as wrong as “5 minutes old.” I think every candidate should know basics like that, if not necssarily be able to name and date every geologic era, period and epoch.

    That said, if I had to choose between a candidate who says “I take on faith that the Earth is only thousands of years old, but I realize the evidence would probably not support it” and one who says “the age of the Earth is not important, I only want students to learn the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of evolution” (and cites anti-evolution propaganda, not the real in-context “strengths and weaknesses”) , I’d choose the former without hesitation.

  2. I understand that the Permian Basin is of some importance in the economics of Texas. Wouldn’t a lot of Texans be expected to know something about the Permian – like that it’s hundreds of millions of years old?

  3. I think it’s safe to say Leinenger has arrived. Mercer, without raising any money to speak of before now, suddenly has funds for an intense robocall campaign (an odd political strategy, but it worked for him in 2006), and an aggressive get-down-the-sign effort (cheaper than printing your own signs and more fun for young, supportive thugs). I love these Christian values!