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Texas textbook wars go to the ballot box today

by: pmbryant on Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 11:17:19 AM CST

(I almost forgot about the SBOE primaries. In District 5 (my stomping grounds) support Fredericksburg incumbent Dan Montgomery (R), to keep some semblance of sanity on the Board. - promoted by Karl-Thomas Musselman)

(Cross-posted at B and B)

It's primary day in Texas!

We've got Rodriguez v Cuellar, Bell v Gammage, Uresti v Madla, and several GOP incumbents in the state legislature being challenged by candidates funded virtually exclusively by wealthy religious conservative James Leininger.  But behind these high-profile races, there is much more.

In the ongoing political fight over the content of Texas public schools' textbooks, two GOP primaries for the Texas State Board of Education are worth keeping an eye on tonight. Religious extremists are looking to replace two members of the state board with two of their own. They already control at least five seats of the fifteen on the board. Apparently no Democrats are running in either race, so the GOP primary is where all the action is.

In district 10, stretching from the area north of Austin to the western suburbs of Houston, a moderate incumbent board member is stepping down. The GOP candidates in the race to replace her are Cynthia Dunbar and Tony Dale.

Dunbar is funded virtually exclusively by the family of notorious billionaire James Leininger, the same fellow funding primary challenges to many of the few remaining sensible Republicans in the state legislature. Dunbar homeschools her children and believes, according to a press release on her web site, that "all students should be taught to be patriots." The Austin American-Statesman reports, "Dunbar said that she would support an intelligent design curriculum and that the concept is 'at least as viable, if not more so, than evolution.'"

Tony Dale is endorsed by the retiring incumbent, Cynthia Thornton, and, unlike Dunbar, sends his child to public schools. In further contrast to Dunbar, he is not an activist in the anti-evolution movement. The American-Statesman writes, "Dale said that the [ID curriculum] issue has been settled and that unless the law is revisited, parents must teach those values at home and in church." He stresses 'local control' of schools, which is contrary to the desires of the extremists, who want to take over the State Board and then dictate standards for the entire state.

In district 5—which encompasses northern Bexar County (including my area), much of Austin, and most of the central Texas Hill Country—former San Antonio state legislator Ken Mercer and physicist Mark Loewe are challenging the incumbent board member Dan Montgomery in the GOP primary.

Mercer, based on his campaign website, is allying himself with the extremist faction. He wants more state control of public schools, and also wants to enforce ideological purity in the GOP. The San Antonio Express-News quoted him saying, "I want to restore some of the power to the state board that was stripped by the Legislature in 1995. I have good relationships with folks in the House and the Senate and I want to work with them to restore that power." On the anti-evolution front, he says, according to the American-Statesman, "We should let kids hear both sides of the story." This puts him firmly in the ID-promoting camp.

Incumbent Montgomery, like Tony Dale, is a "local control" promoter. This has apparently earned him the enmity of the extremist camp. Also, he says, as paraphrased by the American-Statesman, that "the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution should be taught but that science classes should be restricted to subjects supported by scientific evidence."

The other challenger, Mark Loewe, is a physicist from Austin. He doesn't fit neatly into the GOP schism over local versus state control of schools. The Express-News writes about him: "Loewe frequently testifies before the state board and both the House and Senate education committees. He's developed detailed plans on how to save the state money on textbook purchasing. Loewe said cheaper textbooks would mean students could keep them and build their own resource library."

We'll know soon if the religious extremists succeed or fail in replacing two, somewhat sensible, GOP members of the State Board of Education with two more members allied with the cause of dictating ideological content of textbooks throughout the state's public schools and promoting the non-scientific dogma of Intelligent Design in science classrooms.

Tags: Texas Politics, SBOE, (All Tags)

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