Two years ago, when George Clayton announced that he was seeking to represent Dallas and Collin countie on the State Board of Education, the first question was, "Who?" It soon became clear that Clayton was, on the surface at least, a mild-mannered administrator at North Dallas High School who believes wacky things like evolution should be taught in science class, which led to the second question about his SBOE bid: "Why?"
The SBOE is famous for cramming ridiculous things into school textbooks and having members that say outrageously regressive things, but the questions about why Clayton would want to join that circus in Austin was only academic, since he didn't stand a chance in the Republican primary fight against Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, who had maintained a stranglehold on the seat since 1984. But then Clayton, badly outspent and with little name recognition, pulled off a David-vs.-Goliath-style upset, unseating the previously bulletproof Miller.
And what's his track record been like since he was elected? He's been a conservative on the board, but a moderate one, said Dan Quinn, who heads communications for SBOE-watchdog the Texas Freedom Network.
"He's generally been a vote of sanity on the board most times," said Dan Quinn,
Now, after only two years since redistricting truncated what is typically a four-year term, Clayton is leaving office, having been elbowed out by social conservative Miller and an uber-social conservative Gail Spurlock. You might know her as the one who thinks Pilgrims were pinko commies.
Clayton was badly outspent by Miller, who put six figures of her own money into the campaign, but Spurlock didn't have any cash either so that doesn't totally explain the results. Quinn suggests that voters may have ousted Miller in 2010 in part because she had not been sufficiently conservative, opting for a relative unknown after she refused to back down on a pro-evolution stance. That would make her resurgence a return to the status quo. Clayton also waffled a bit over whether to run for re-election, announcing that he was seeking a state House seat but then, wait, no he wasn't.
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Another factor that certainly didn't help Clayton in a conservative Texas district was a whisper campaign surrounding his sexuality. During the run-up to the election, rumors circulated that Clayton is gay.
Those rumors happen to be true, something Clayton didn't advertise but didn't exactly hide either. He shares his Richardson home with his partner of 30-plus years, Quinn said, so it's not exactly a secret. Still, a segment of the electorate that remains disconcertingly large seized on the news as proof that Clayton was unfit for office.
The ideological makeup of the SBOE didn't shift much with last week's election, but Quinn said the Miller-Spurlock runoff could influence whether the board merely leans far to the right or very, very far to the right.
Farewell, George. We hardly knew ye.